HONOLULU, HAWAII -- The Hawaii Senate passed a House-amended bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Tuesday.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie is expected to sign the bill into law quickly, perhaps as soon as Wednesday, which would allow Hawaii to beat out Illinois as the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Hawaii law allows same-sex couples to marry in the Aloha State beginning Dec. 2, just in time for destination wedding season.
While the final Senate vote was pretty uneventful (19-4), the bill was not without opposition. The Hawaii House passed the special session measure 30-19 after a tumultuous five-day public hearing, which featured heated testimonies and spirited protesters.
The House amendments were largely aimed at expanding religious exemptions for clergy and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage, including "for-profit" organizations that can opt out of marriage ceremonies. The Hawaii bill follows the example of Connecticut's same-sex marriage law.
The debate over same-sex marriage in Hawaii dates back more than 20 years, when, in 1990, Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel, two women, applied for a marriage license in Honolulu. Their bravery prompted ground-breaking court cases and led to a national discussion on gay marriage.
Abercrombie, a first-term Democrat, called for the special session to address same-sex marriage when, earlier this year, part of the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hawaii's same-sex couples were then missing out on 1,100 federal benefits because the state did not allow them to be legally married.
A recent poll shows that Hawaii voters are split on same-sex marriage, but public support is growing rapidly. This is similar to national trends -- just one year ago, only six states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage. Today, that number has more than doubled: 14 states and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriage, with Hawaii and Illinois poised to become the 15th and 16th states respectively before the end of the month.