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Hawaii Senate passes gay marriage bill

HONOLULU — The state Senate passed a bill Tuesday legalizing gay marriage, putting Hawaii a signature away from becoming a same-sex wedding destination.

Governor 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.

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‘‘I look forward to signing this significant piece of legislation, which provides marriage equity and fully recognizes and protects religious freedoms,’’ Abercrombie said.

President 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.

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.

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