HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers approved a bill yesterday to allow civil unions for same-sex couples, marking an end to what the governor called an “emotional process’’ for a longtime battleground in the gay rights movement.
The office of Governor Neil Abercrombie said the governor intends to sign the bill into law within 10 business days. Civil unions would begin Jan. 1, making the state the seventh in the nation to grant essentially the same rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.
“I’m overjoyed,’’ said Kristin Bacon of Honolulu, who intends to get a civil union with her partner of 15 years. “We’re really representing aloha and the aloha spirit with this vote.’’
Supporters, wearing rainbow-colored leis and “Equality’’ stickers, cheered, hugged, and cried for joy after the Senate’s 18-to-5 vote. The House passed the bill last week.
Gay rights advocates praised the vote as a victory for equal rights in a state known for its diversity and tolerance.
Opponents of the measure said civil unions erode the concept of the traditional family.
“I feel very grieved for all of us,’’ said Stephanie Kon of Honolulu.
She wanted the state to vote on the issue as it did 13 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly passed the nation’s first “defense of marriage’’ constitutional amendment.
The amendment, approved by 69 percent of voters, was a response to a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that nearly legalized gay marriage.
The ruling would have made Hawaii the first state to allow same-sex couples to wed, but it didn’t take effect while voters were given a chance to decide. The amendment resulted in a law banning gay marriage but left the door open for civil unions.