Same-sex marriages began on Monday in Hawaii as the place where the initial battles for gay marriage recognition started decades ago became the latest state to authorize the ceremony.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, though Illinois won’t begin gay weddings until June.
“We started this battle 23 years ago, and we get to finish it tonight,” Honolulu Pride Chairman Michael Golojuch Jr. told reporters early Monday morning.
Six couples at a Waikiki resort exchanged their marriage vows early Monday as several hundred guests looked on, according to the Associated Press. Across town, an openly gay Unitarian minister wed his partner of 15 years.
Hawaii’s marriage laws allow couples to register for a license and be married the same day. Couples can sign up for a license online and then be verified by any license agent.
Couples began filling out their license applications moments after midnight as license agents, located throughout the state, monitored laptop computers.
Keola Akana and Ethan Wung were among the first group. 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 told reporters. “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.”
A same-sex couple sought a marriage license on Hawaii more than two decades ago and much to everyone’s surprise the state’s Supreme Court agreed in 1993 that they were entitled to one. In essence, the court held that not allowing gays and lesbians to marry was discriminatory.
It was the first time a U.S. court had ruled on same-sex marriage and the decision sparked a revolution — along with a backlash. Hawaii’s voters reversed the court’s ruling. The U.S. Congress eventually passed the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which denied same-sex marriages and dozens of states passed their own laws and constitutional amendments defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
But in June, the U.S. Supreme court threw out portions of DOMA, sparking the latest round of court battles and fights in state legislatures over same-sex marriage.
Hawaii is already a marriage and honeymoon destination, and the new law could be lucrative. A study by a researcher at the University of Hawaii found that same-sex marriage could add $217 million in added tourism from the weddings.