Lawmakers in the Hawaii House declined to vote Friday on a bill that would have recognized gay and lesbian couples with civil unions, the AP reported. The bill would have granted gay and lesbian couples all the rights and obligations of marriage.

The action effectively shelves the proposal indefinitely. Supporters sitting in the gallery shouted, “Shame on you!” Opponents cheered the decision.

Last week, the Hawaii Senate approved the bill with a veto-proof 18 to 7 vote, giving activists hope the measure would become law despite the disapproval of Republican Governor Linda Lingle, who has chided lawmakers for not focusing on economic issues.

“It's an election year, and they're more concerned about keeping their seats than doing what's right,” Stephen Nagle, a supporter of the bill, told the news service.

“We're sorely disappointed that the Hawaii State House refused to take action on the civil unions bill,” Tambry Young, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, a group that lobbied for passage of the bill, said in a statement. “Today, the House put its own political interests before the interests of Hawaii's families and that's bad policy and bad politics. We pledge that his fight is not over, and we will continue in our efforts to see true equality in our state.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocate, called the loss stunning.

“We're stunned that the Hawaii State House would act contrary to their previous position of strongly supporting this bill,” he said.

The events of the past week are a reversal of last year's drama, which included quick passage in the House, followed by a sudden stall in the Senate. A key Senate panel deadlocked on a 3-3 vote, marooning the bill. But in their second attempt, Senators managed to fish the bill out of the committee during the final days of the legislative session. Senators quickly amended the bill to include both gay and straight couples, but the session ended without a vote on the measure.

During Friday's House vote no roll call was taken, effectively shielding the identities of who voted for or against the bill.

House Speaker Calvin Say denied claims by civil unions supporters that the anonymous vote was “cowardly.”

“You can call me a coward, but we are all not cowards. We'll make our tough decisions as we go ahead. But members were concerned, and that was my role as the speaker to make that determination and decision to do what we did today,” Say said.

Members might have been spooked by recent events in New Jersey and New York. Senators in both states have been targeted by both opponents and supporters of gay rights after each chamber killed a gay marriage bill late last year.

Hawaii was the first state to approve a gay marriage ban in 1998 after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.