Hawaii officials expect to begin issuing civil union licenses for gay and lesbian couples by December 3, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported.

However, Hawaii's civil unions law won't take effect until January 1, 2012, and civil union licenses expire after 30 days.

Officials are issuing the early licenses to allow couples in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship to obtain necessary paperwork to have a ceremony after the law's start on January 1.

The state began offering the union to couples in 1997. It allows access to a limited number of state benefits, including inheritance rights, workers' compensation, health insurance, hospital visitation and healthcare decision making. Couples in a reciprocal beneficiary relationship can also jointly own property.

Couples moving from a RBR to a civil union could find fall into a “gap period” where neither is in effect, placing necessary benefits such as insurance coverage at risk.

Hawaii and four other states – New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island and Delaware – have legalized civil unions, while six states – Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont and, most recently, New York – and the District of Columbia recognize gay couples with full marriage.

Democratic Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the bill into law in February.