The Hawaii Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that offers gay and lesbian couples benefits and responsibilities nearly identical to those of marriage, Reuters reported.

Senators approved the civil unions legislation, which cleared the House on Friday, with an 18 to 5 vote, sending the bill to Governor Neil Abercrombie for his signature.

Abercrombie has previously pledged to sign the bill into law.

“I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “For me this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

Lawmakers approved a nearly identical bill last year, but then-Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican, vetoed the measure after much public hand-wringing on the issue.

Gay activists praised the measure.

“I have a great sense of pride for the Legislature that was able to see the big picture of equality for Hawaii,” said Tara O'Neill, president of Pride Alliance.

Hawaii becomes the third state to offer the union behind New Jersey and Illinois, whose governor signed a similar measure into law last month. A similar bill has been introduced in Colorado.