Gay weddings become reality in Hawaii with new law

HONOLULU - Hawaii issued 40 licenses for same-sex marriages Monday as gay marriages began in the state with six couples at a Waikiki resort exchanging vows side-by-side in front of a few hundred guests.

The state began accepting applications for licenses on its website at midnight. Almost all of the licenses were for couples on Oahu, said state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo. One license was for a couple on Maui.

Saralyn Morales was among the six couples who tied the knot at the Waikiki resort shortly after the new law took effect.

"It's about making that commitment to the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with," she said shortly after cutting a small wedding cake with her spouse, Isajah Morales.

Okubo said the Health Department already has certified one same-sex marriage and was verifying documents for two dozen more. The state has up to two days to issue a marriage certificate once a marriage is performed if a couple obtains their license online.

Hawaii helped start the national gay marriage discussion more than two decades ago when a same-sex couple was denied a marriage license, leading to a court fight that eventually prompted Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Part of that law, which stipulated that marriage was between a man and woman, was struck down earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tourism is the lifeblood of Hawaii and officials believe the islands will benefit from the new law. An estimate from a University of Hawaii researcher says the state will get a $217 million tourism boost over the next three years as a result of gay marriage.

The new law allows couples to register for a license and be married the same day, a process that appeals to tourists. Couples can sign up for a license online then be verified by any license agent throughout the state.

Agents have set up shop throughout the islands, from resorts on Maui and the Big Island to hard-to-reach places on Kauai.

Saralyn and Isajah Morales began filling out license applications a few minutes after midnight, along with other couples. Several license agents huddled around four laptops in a tiny conference room, refreshing their web browsers to coax a state-run website to load.

A few feet away, wedding guests sipped champagne, dined on curried shrimp and portabella mushroom sliders, listened to piano music and took pictures with the seven cakes on display for the occasion.

Couples who walked in to register on the spot posed with a three-tiered centerpiece cake, adorned with pink and white roses.

"Next!" Keola Akana exclaimed after being the first of the group to complete the license application with his groom, Ethan Wung. Akana said he and Wung were getting married after entering into a civil union last year so they could receive federal benefits.

"Got dinged on taxes last year because we're not legally married federally, and we will be married for taxes this year," Akana said. "Now we're equal to everybody in Hawaii that's married, everybody in the nation and the world that's legally married, so that's an honor."

One of the organizers, Honolulu Pride Chairman Michael Golojuch Jr., said early Monday that more than three dozen couples had signed up to wed.

"We started this battle 23 years ago and we get to finish it tonight," Golojuch said.

Hawaii businesses now are looking for ways to embrace the gay community, he said.

"They opened up their doors to us, their hearts to us," Golojuch said. "That's what we're seeing with a lot of the business community that understands that $217 million is what our economy needs to keep on going."

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