The state House on Friday approved a bill on civil unions -- which would offer rights and responsibilities similar to marriage for unmarried couples.
A large group of civil unions supporters and a smaller number of opponents gathered in the House chamber for the vote. The measure passed 31-19, one member, Rep. Rida Cabanilla, was not present.
The House voted on a version of Senate Bill 232, which was amended by the House Judiciary Committee to include clarifying changes recommended by the attorney general. The bill now goes back to the Senate, which is expected to accept the House amendments and send the bill directly to the governor as early as next week.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he considers equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians to be a civil rights matter.
Critics of the measure often sighted religious beliefs that homosexuality is a immoral lifestyle choice that threatens the institution of traditional marriage.
Supporters said being gay is not a choice and denying equality is discrimination no different than discrimination based on race. They said civil unions will encourage stable relationships in the gay community.
If approved and signed into law, the measure would allow civil unions beginning on Jan. 1, 2012.