The Hawaiian senate passed a bill on Tuesday legalizing same sex marriage, putting the state a signature away from becoming a same sex wedding destination.
Governor Neil Abercrombie, who called lawmakers to a special session for the bill and has vocally supported gay marriage, said in a statement he will sign the measure. It will allow thousands of gay couples living in Hawaii and even more tourists to marry in the state starting from 2 December.
“I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms,” Abercrombie said.
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 with two lawmakers excused. Cheers erupted inside and outside the gallery when the vote was taken, with a smattering of boos.
An estimate from a University of Hawaii researcher says the law will boost tourism by $217m 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 $166m over those three years on ceremonies and honeymoons.
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.
The case led to Congress passing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, part of which was struck down earlier this year by the US supreme court. The decision that legally married same-sex couples could qualify for federal benefits led Abercrombie to call the special session in Hawaii.
The senate vote puts Hawaii alongside Illinois, where a bill legalizing gay marriage is also awaiting the governor’s signature. Another 14 states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage.
Officials in Abercrombie’s office said details of a signing ceremony for Hawaii’s measure were still being finalized.