Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday signed a bill into law that offers gay and lesbian couples benefits and responsibilities nearly identical to those of marriage, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported.

“This signing today of this measure says to all of the world that they are welcome. That everyone is a brother or sister here in paradise,” Abercrombie said in remarks before singing the bill into law.

“The legalization of civil unions in Hawaii represent in my mind equal rights for all people,” he added.

The Hawaii Senate gave final approval to the measure last Wednesday.

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.

“It's a sad day for the people of Hawaii,” Senator Mike Gabbard, a former Republican who switched to the Democratic Party in 2007, told the paper.

The Hawaii Catholic Conference, which had strongly opposed the bill, also expressed disappointment: “Passage of this legislation is just a step towards the legalization of same-sex marriage.”

Hawaii becomes the third state to offer the union behind New Jersey and Illinois, whose governor signed a similar measure into law last month. Civil unions are also up for debate in Colorado and possibly Delaware.