Hawaiian lawmakers have sent the governor of the US island state a bill to allow same-sex couples to formalise their relationships through civil unions.

Democrat Governor Neil Abercrombie (pictured) indicated that he will sign the bill into law this week, with couples being able to register their relationships from January 1 2012.

“I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people’s privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha,” Abercrombie said, “For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

Immediately after voting on the civil unions bill, the Hawaiian Senate voted to confirm its first openly gay Supreme Court judge.

Previously, unmarried Hawaiians in any relationship, including non-sexual friendships, were able to enter into reciprocal beneficiary registration which gave them a limited number of rights and benefits.

Hawaii is the 12th US state or district to provide a civil union or domestic partnership status for same-sex couples. Half of those have gone on to legalise same-sex marriage.

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