HONOLULU (AP) — The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday legalizing gay marriage, putting Hawaii a signature away from becoming a same-sex wedding destination.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who called lawmakers to a special session for the bill and has vocally supported gay marriage, said in a statement that 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 Dec. 2.
"I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms," Abercrombie said.
The governor's office later announced Abercrombie will sign the bill Wednesday morning in an invitation-only ceremony at the Hawaii Convention Center.
President 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. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who voted against the bill, banged her gavel and told members of the public to quiet down.
More than half the chamber's lawmakers spoke in support of the bill, with many urging the public to come together to heal divisions within the community.
"This is nothing more than the expansion of aloha in Hawaii," said Sen. J. Kalani English, a Democrat from Maui.
Sen. Sam Slom, the chamber's only Republican, said the government should stay out of legislating marriage.
"People have differences, and you can't legislate morality. You can try, but you can't do it," Slom said before voting against the bill.
Rep. Bob McDermott, a House lawmaker who filed a lawsuit to try to derail the special session, promised a new challenge once Abercrombie signs the bill. A judge said he would take the case only after the law fully passes.