Honolulu (AP) - Hawaii's governor ended months of speculation by vetoing contentious civil unions legislation that would have granted gay, lesbian and opposite-sex couples the same rights and benefits that the state provides to married couples.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's action on Tuesday came on the final day she had to either sign or veto the bill, which was approved by the Legislature in late April.
The measure would have made Hawaii one of six states that essentially grant the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. Five other states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.
Lingle said voters should decide the fate of civil unions, not politicians.
"The subject of this legislation has touched the hearts and minds of our citizens as no other social issue of our day," she said. "It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials."
For weeks, Lingle heard emotional statements from both supporters and opponents of the bill. On Tuesday, she invited leaders from both sides to her standing-room only news conference.
Opponents of the measure, including many religious groups, erupted in cheers and hugs when the announcement was made.
"What she did was very just, and I'm very happy about it," said Jay Amina, 50, of Waianae. "It sends a good message throughout the state of Hawaii -- that our people here on the islands are standing for traditional marriage."
Supporters of civil unions shouted, "We'll keep fighting!" and "Let's go!" The group of about 100 joined in singing "We Shall Overcome."
"We had hoped the governor would do the right thing for civil rights and equality," Lee Yarbrough of Honolulu said while standing arm-in-arm with his partner. "This battle is far from over."
The Aloha State has been a battleground in the gay rights movement since the early 1990s. A 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling nearly made Hawaii the first state to legalize same-sex marriage before voters overwhelmingly approved the nation's first "defense of marriage" constitutional amendment in 1998.
The measure gave the Legislature the power to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples. Lawmakers responded by enacting a law banning gay marriage in Hawaii but left the door open for civil unions.
Last year, civil unions easily passed the House but stalled in the state Senate. When legislators reconvened in January, it was passed in the Senate but shelved by House leaders until the final day of the legislative session.
About 60 percent of the more than 34,000 letters, telephone calls, e-mails and other communications from the public to the governor asked her to veto the measure, the governor's aides said late last week.
Lingle's decision will be the last development on the proposal this year. State House leaders had decided not to try to override any of her vetoes.
Associated Press writers Mark Niesse and Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, said voters should decide the fate of civil unions, not politicians.