Hawaii's governor faced a midnight deadline Tuesday to take action on a same-sex civil unions bill approved weeks ago by the Legislature, as supporters of the measure waved rainbow flags in front of the state Capitol and opponents prayed in the hallways for a veto.
Gov. Linda Lingle, a two-term Republican who leaves office in December, has until 11:59 p.m. to sign or veto the only pending civil unions legislation in the nation, or allow it to become law without her signature. The bill has been on Lingle's desk since shortly after lawmakers passed it in late April.
The measure grants gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits that the state provides to married couples. If Lingle gives her approval, Hawaii would become one of six states — along with California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington — to grant essentially all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.
Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage: Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Lingle has heard emotional views from both supporters and opponents of the bill, and has said she wants to communicate her decision in a way that does not antagonize either side.
In the Capitol's ground-floor rotunda, dozens of supporters gathered for a daylong vigil to await Lingle's announcement. Some waved flags and held signs along a busy street, to the honks of passing vehicles.
"I want to be able to get married," said Elizabeth Kline, a 22-year-old University of Hawaii student who quickly corrected herself to say she wants a civil union. "It's not marriage, but it's a step toward it."
Shaun Campbell said he wants to establish a civil union with his terminally ill partner who has no medical insurance. Campbell, 42, added that he has no visitation rights with his hospital-bound partner.
S.E. Schofield said gays, lesbians and transgendered people "have the right to make families and the state needs to recognize that we need to have equality in making those families."
Meanwhile, a group of about 20 civil unions opponents raised their hands, closed their eyes and said blessings in front of the office doors of key lawmakers. They wore white shirts in a show of unity and buttons declaring "iVote," a promise of consequences come November if civil unions become law.
"All we're doing is praying. We're not waving signs or playing music," like gay rights groups in the rotunda, said Dennis Arakaki, executive director for the Hawaii Family Forum.
"We've done what we could. Now it's her decision," he said.
About 60 percent of the more than 34,000 letters, telephone calls, e-mails and other communications from the public to the governor asked her to veto the measure, the governor's aides said late last week.
The Aloha State has been a battleground in the gay rights movement since the early 1990s.
A 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling nearly made Hawaii the first state to legalize same-sex marriage before voters in the state overwhelmingly approved the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment in 1998.
The measure gave the Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. Lawmakers responded by enacting a law banning gay marriage in Hawaii but left the door open for civil unions.
Associated Press writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report.
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