In electing Neil Abercrombie governor, and rejecting many anti-gay statewide candidates, Hawaii voters have paved the way for passage of a gay-inclusive civil unions bill.

The GOP wave that swamped much of the country on election day appears to have left Hawaii, where Democrats will continue to control the Legislature, unscathed.

Gay rights were an important issue in the race to become the state's next governor.

Republican gubernatorial candidate James “Duke” Aiona, who currently serves as the state's lieutenant governor, had staked much of his political future on opposing a gay-inclusive civil unions bill and promising to back an amendment banning gay marriage in the Hawaii Constitution.

Lawmakers last session narrowly approved a bill that recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions, but Republican Governor Linda Lingle vetoed the measure.

In announcing her decision, Lingle said that she believes civil unions are “essentially same sex marriage by another name.”

During the campaign, Aiona said he agreed with Lingle's opinion and promised to back an amendment that would ban government recognition of all gay unions, closing the option for civil unions left open by a 1998 constitutional amendment granting lawmakers the power to define marriage as a heterosexual union. The measure overruled a 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that favored gay marriage advocates.

While Abercrombie, a former congressman, supported the 1998 measure, he also supports government recognition of gay unions.

“It was a bill about civil rights and responsibilities under the constitution, and did not constitute – in my judgment – anything approaching a revision or recalculation or redefinition of marriage,” Abercrombie said, referring to the civil unions bill.

Openly gay House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro has promised to reintroduce his civil unions legislation in the next session.

“In many ways, this election was a referendum on the bill,” Alan Spector, co-chair of Equality Hawaii, told the AP. “This election has shown that equality wins elections. There's no reason for us to believe that we can't pass the bill again.”