Hawaii and Delaware celebrate first civil unions of the New Year

Hawaii and Delaware joined a growing number of states extending relationship recognition to gay and lesbian couples when their historic civil union laws went into effect on New Year’s Day. Both states passed civil unions through their legislatures in 2011 in order to provide state-level protections for same-sex couples.

In Hawaii, Donna Gedge and her partner of 33 years, Monica Montgomery, were one of four couples who celebrated the law with a joint ceremony held shortly after midnight on January 1st. “We really don’t want to wait any longer,” Gedge said to CNN-affiliate KITV. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the legislation in February.

The first Delaware couple to participate in the state’s new law was also two women named Lisa Goodman and Drewry Fennell. The women had a ceremony with family, friends, and colleagues at an Episcopal church on Sunday night. Goodman is president of Equality Delaware, which helped drive the civil union legislation through the state government; while Fennell is executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council. Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed the civil unions bill into law in May.

The two laws in Delaware and Hawaii are historic because they bring the number of states with civil unions up to five, joining Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Illinois. Washington, D.C. currently extends the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples, as do six states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Vermont, and New York. (Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire all passed civil union legislation before later extending marriage to gay couples.)