The Associated Press

HONOLULU - The Hawaii Senate approved same-sex civil unions Friday, potentially setting up the measure for final passage as soon as next week.

The Senate passed the bill on an 18-7 vote, moving it to the House and signaling that the Senate’s Democratic majority has enough votes to override a possible veto from Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

The House has yet to decide if it will vote on the bill. House leaders say they will take up the bill if they have a veto-proof two-thirds majority but may let it die if they have only a small majority.

“It’s very close,” said Democratic Speaker of the House Calvin Say. “During an election year, this issue is so divisive that it may hurt many of our members.”

The bill would grant gay and straight couples the same rights and benefits the state provides to married couples.

Five other states - Colorado, Wisconsin, Maryland, Maine and New Jersey - allow civil unions. Five states - Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut - permit same-sex marriage.

Civil union supporters wearing rainbow-colored lei cheered from the Senate gallery when the vote count was announced, while opponents in white shirts and “iVote” buttons quietly walked out.

“I’m very happy. It’s not marriage, but it gives us an opportunity to be recognized as a couple,” Carlos Quintana of Honolulu said.

The vote follows a rally at the Capitol last weekend attended by thousands of people supporting traditional marriage between a man and a woman. Protesters urged lawmakers to vote down civil unions and promised repercussions during this year’s elections to those who didn’t.

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