Hawaii governor to sign gay marriage bill on Wednesday; law takes effect Dec. 2

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii)

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii)

HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie plans to sign a gay marriage bill into law during an invitation-only ceremony at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Abercrombie’s office said he would sign the bill Wednesday morning in a theater in the convention hall near Waikiki.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii)

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii)

The signing comes the day after the state Senate passed the bill on Tuesday.

The measure will allow thousands of gay couples living in Hawaii and even more tourists to marry in the state starting Dec. 2. Another 14 states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage, while a bill is awaiting the governor’s signature in Illinois.

“I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms,” Abercrombie said.

President Barack Obama praised the bill’s passage, saying the affirmation of freedom and equality makes the country stronger.

“I’ve always been proud to have been born in Hawaii, and today’s vote makes me even prouder,” Obama said.

Senators passed the bill 19-4 on Tuesday with two lawmakers excused. Cheers erupted inside and outside the gallery when the vote was taken, with a smattering of boos. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who voted against the bill, banged her gavel and told members of the public to quiet down.

More than half the chamber’s lawmakers spoke in support of the bill, with many urging the public to come together to heal divisions within the community.

“This is nothing more than the expansion of aloha in Hawaii,” said Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat from Maui.

Sen. Sam Slom, the chamber’s only Republican, said the government should stay out of legislating marriage.

“People have differences, and you can’t legislate morality. You can try, but you can’t do it,” Slom said before voting against the bill.

Rep. Bob McDermott, a House lawmaker who filed a lawsuit to try to derail the special sessi on, promised a new challenge once Abercrombie signs the bill. A judge said he would take the case only after the law fully passes.

An estimate from a University of Hawaii researcher says gay marriage will boost tourism by $217 million over the next three years, as Hawaii becomes an outlet for couples in other states, bringing ceremonies, receptions and honeymoons to the islands.

The study’s author has said Hawaii would benefit from pent-up demand for gay weddings, with couples spending $166 million over those three years on ceremonies and honeymoons.

The Senate had to take up the bill a second time because of changes made in the House, where the bill was amended and eventually passed.

The House amendments delayed the date ceremonies could begin, slightly expanded an exemption for clergy and religious organizations, and removed regulations determining how children of same-sex couples could qualify for Native Hawaiian benefits.

The measure is the culmination of more than two decades of debate in the state, where two women in 1990 famously applied for a marriage license, touching off a court battle and eventual national discussion on gay marriage.

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