It's not marriage, but it was a huge victory when Hawaii's gay-inclusive civil unions law took effect at midnight on New Year's Eve.

The law caps off a decades-long struggle for marriage rights that started in the early 90s.

In 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court was the first in the nation to declare a ban on marriage for gay couples unconstitutional, but the court remanded the case to the trial court. Before the case returned to the state's highest court, voters approved a constitutional amendment that gave lawmakers the right to decide on marriage, which it did by passing a gay marriage ban.

A civil unions law was narrowly approved by lawmakers in 2010, but then-Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican, vetoed the bill on the last possible day to announce her decision. She said she rejected the bill because it was too similar to marriage.

In February, Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, happily signed the bill into law in front of a cheering crowd.

Four gay couples inaugurated the law at the stroke of midnight during a celebration organized by a coalition of groups including Citizens for Equal Rights and Honolulu Pride.

A similar law in Delaware took effect on January 1 at 10AM. Hawaii and Delaware join New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island in offering the union.