Hawaii senate approves bill to legalise same-sex marriage

If approved by House of Representatives, Hawaii would become the 15th US state to make same-sex marriage legal

Hawaii’s state senate has approved legislation to legalise same-sex marriage in a state that has long been popular as a wedding and honeymoon destination, voting overwhelmingly to repeal a voter-approved constitutional amendment banning gay matrimony.

If the bill is approved, as expected, by the state House of Representatives – where Democrats outnumber Republicans 44-7 – Hawaii would become the 15th US state to make it legal for gay and lesbian couples to wed.

A House committee is expected to hold a hearing on the measure on Thursday; no floor action in the lower chamber has been scheduled.

Democratic governor Neil Abercrombie said the bill was crafted to address opponents’ concerns that legalising gay marriage would infringe on religious freedom. The proposal exempts clergy and churches from having to perform same-sex marriages.

The vote comes at a time of increasing momentum for gay marriage in the US.

Only six states and Washington DC recognised same-sex marriage a year ago, but the number has since more than doubled. Three states – Maine, Maryland and Washington – became the first to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular vote with ballot initiatives last November. Last week, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, dropped his legal opposition to gay marriage, making it the 14th US state to legalise same-sex weddings.

The debate has long divided Hawaii. In 1993 its state supreme court ruled that it was discriminatory to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. This was followed five years later by a voter-approved constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

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