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Gov. Neil Abercrombie signing marriage equality bill

Hawaii became the 16th state to pass marriage equality but will become the 15th state where marriages are performed.

Although Illinois passed marriage equality last week, the law doesn’t go into effect until June. When Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed his state’s marriage equality law Wednesday, his state jumped ahead of Illinois.

Marriage equality begins in Hawaii on Dec. 2, according to Honolulu’s CBS affiliate KHON-TV.

The bill originally passed the Senate without religious exemptions. The House tacked on religious protections, so it had to return to the Senate for approval. That approval came yesterday.

Abercrombie signed the bill at an invitation-only ceremony held at the Honolulu Convention Center.

Although marriage equality sailed through a two-week special session called by the governor, the issue has been brewing in the state since 1990 when a lesbian couple sued for the right to marry. A court agreed and put the burden of proof on the state to show it had any interest in preventing same-sex couples from marrying.

After the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, Hawaii added a consitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples, which they did until passage of  marriage equality law Tuesday.

Last-ditch arguments in the Senate yesterday included one opponent claiming the bill discriminated against bisexuals. Then the Senate’s lone Republican argued that without bipartisan support, the bill shouldn’t pass. That meant the Senate should vote against any bill be didn’t agree with.

Ninia Baehr and Genora Dancel who filed the original marriage case split in 1997 but have remained friends. Their attorney, Evan Wolfson, now heads the group Freedom to Marry.

Marriage is now legal in 15 states, 8 counties in New Mexico, the District of Columbia and the Arapaho Cheyenne Reservation in Oklahoma. Illinois’ governor plans to sign his state’s marriage equality bill on Nov. 20.