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Hawaii's Governor Signs Civil Unions Into Law

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed same-sex civil unions into law, granting gay and lesbian couples the same state rights as married partners.

Civil unions in the Rainbow State would start Jan. 1, 2012, making Hawaii the seventh state to permit civil unions or similar legal recognitions for gay couples. Five other states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

The new law comes after 20 years of court fights, protest rallies and passionate public debate in a state that has long been a gay rights battleground.

The Democratic governor's signature makes it the first law he's enacted since he was elected in November.

Just seven months ago, former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a similar bill because she said it was same-sex marriage by another name.