Hawaii's governor vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have permitted same-sex civil unions, ending weeks of speculation about what she would do with the contentious, emotionally charged issue.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle acted on the last day she had to sign the bill, veto the bill or allow it to become law without her signature. The Legislature had approved it in late April.
"There has not been a bill I have contemplated more or an issue I have thought more deeply about during my eight years as governor than House Bill 444 and the institution of marriage," Lingle said at a news conference. "I have been open and consistent in my opposition to same-sex marriage, and find that House Bill 444 is essentially same-sex marriage by another name."
The bill would have granted gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits the state provides to married couples.
She said voters, not politicians, should decide the fate of civil unions.
"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," she said.
For weeks, the governor heard emotional views from both supporters and opponents of the bill. 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 Lingle announced her decision.
"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 then 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, standing arm in arm with his partner. "This battle is far from over."
Lingle's decision is expected to be the last say on the proposal this year because legislative leaders have said they won't override any of her vetoes. The two-term Republican leaves office in December.
Earlier in the day, supporters of the bill waved rainbow flags in front of the state Capitol and gathered in the rotunda for a vigil, while opponents prayed in the hallways for a veto.
Five states — California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington — grant essentially all the rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself. Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.