HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With the stroke of a pen Gov. Neil Abercrombie made good on his campaign pledge to sign the civil unions bill into law.
"This singing today of this measure says to all the world that they are welcome - that everyone is a brother and a sister here in paradise," he said.
About 100 supporters of the measure witnessed the ceremony at Washington Place.
Eileen McKee and Deborah Cohn came from Maui wearing matching rings and looks of relief.
"What this means is I can finally have my friends, my family be able to give us a big cheer of being together," Cohn said.
"I'm so glad the governor invited some folks from Maui. That feels great too, and that he recognizes our relationship," McKee said.
A week ago the senate passed the measure, clearing the last legislative hurdle. A civil union gives same-sex and opposite sex partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples.
"We have been disappointed so many times. I think people kept waiting for the other shoe to drop," LGBT Caucus chairperson Jo-Ann Adams said. "One person I think put it really well that I'm proud of Hawaii. We're back in the forefront again."
The state Department of Health will be in charge of processing civil unions.
McKee and Cohn plan a ceremony for the day after the bill goes into effect on January 1, 2012.
"We're hoping that the licensing bureau will get it together so that we can actually do that date. It's a Monday holiday. We've got friends and family already flying in," McKee said.
A University of Hawaii study estimates an average of about 300 civil unions filings annually over the next six years.
Abercrombie said civil unions gives equal rights to all.
"Here in Hawaii, we do not let our diversity divide us. It indeed defines us and this bill defines us," he said.
Hawaii becomes the seventh state to grant civil unions.