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Tears and cheers as Abercrombie signs bill

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 8:07 p.m. HST, Feb 24, 2011

Fifty supporters applauded and shouted in joy at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel after witnessing the governor, via live Internet feed, sign the landmark civil unions bill into law yesterday afternoon.

Many jumped to their feet and cheered. Some hugged. Others brushed away tears.

"We're finally accepted and recognized," said Clayton Logue, 50, who flew from Maui to witness history. He and his partner, who were joined in an Episcopal ceremony, will wait to see how the new law will affect their benefits before deciding whether to enter into a civil union.

Louise Esselstyn, 66, and her partner of 19 years, Robie Lovinger, 57, are among six couples who sued the state in Circuit Court after then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a similar civil unions bill last year.

"We are shining on this day," Lovinger said. "It's not just for gays or lesbians, but for all of us in Hawaii. ... The fabric of society is strengthened when we stand together on the side of equality."

Lovinger left a federal job for a state job to obtain reciprocal benefits to provide for Esselstyn, who has multiple sclerosis and cannot work.

She said medical benefits are crucial and expects added benefits under the civil unions law.

Lovinger said their mothers, ages 92 and 81, are "still pressing them to get married."

Aaron Escobido-Ortiz, 29, and partner Bruce Lee, 25, will celebrate five years together tomorrow and want to be one of the first couples to take advantage of the new law come Jan. 1.

"We own real estate, business, pay taxes," Escobido-Ortiz said. "It's going to help us out. We're deserving of this. We work hard. We contribute to the community.

"Not only did we recognize our relationship, now everyone has to," he said.

Heike Friedman, 45, who lobbied three years for the bill's passage, said: "It's a big day," as tears filled her eyes. "Everybody should be equal. It was such a fight when it should be so normal."

"I was a gay rights activist before he (her 18-year-old gay son) was born," said the native of Germany, where it has been law for years. "Everybody should be equal under the law and be able to love whomever they want."


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