HONOLULU (AP) — Same-sex couples are taking advantage of Hawaii's newfound aloha for gay weddings.
Six couples at a Waikiki resort tied the knot early Monday, exchanging vows side-by-side with one another in front of a few hundred guests shortly after midnight, while even more couples watched and waited their turn.
Across town, an openly gay Unitarian minister wed his partner of 15 years in a ceremony attended by clergy who pushed for the new law, plus Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who called the special legislative session that led to the law.
"One hundred percent tuned (out) everything else but her," Saralyn Morales said moments after cutting a small wedding cake after marrying her partner, Isajah Morales. "It's about making that commitment to the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with."
Hawaii's marriage laws allow couples to register for a license and be married the same day, a process conducive for tourists only in the state a short time.
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 each of 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.
"It's just exciting and historic and we wanted to be a part of it," Maria Gallo, a Honolulu resident who planned to marry her partner, Beth Creary, said Sunday, several hours before standing in line for a license agent at the resort.
"This is like a confirmation with a group of people here who are sharing our joy," she said.
For those wanting to get licenses in person, Hawaii's Health Department planned to open its doors at 8 a.m. Monday.
"We started this battle 23 years ago and we get to finish it tonight," Golojuch Jr. said.
Hawaii is often credited with starting the national gay marriage discussion, when couples applying for a marriage license led to a court fight that eventually helped prompt Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Part of the law was struck down earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Golojuch said the weddings will touch Hawaii in a good way and that businesses have begun to think about how to embrace the gay community.
"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."
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.
Hawaii's Legislature — overwhelmingly composed of Democrats — passed the law last month during a special session. Abercrombie called for the special session after the U.S. Supreme Court rulings.