One in every 7 marriages in state are same-sex couples

One in every 7 marriages in state are same-sex couples
Image Source: Gigi Lee
Image Source: Gigi Lee

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been nearly six months since the passage of Hawaiʻi's Marriage Equality act and according to the state Department of Health one in every seven marriages since then have been same-sex couples.

Of the 9,640 weddings that have taken place since December 2, 2013, 1,417 of them have been same-sex couples.

"We didn't think this was going to be possible and it is," said 32-year-old Denise Luna.

Luna and her bride-to-be Joanne Howard have been together for five years.  When the Hawaii Marriage Equality Act passed last December their plans for a commitment ceremony turned instead into a wedding at the Halekulani.  320 guests have been invited -- making it one of the largest same-sex wedding officials say they've hosted.

"It's pretty much everything for us -- our family and friends can come help us celebrate and enjoy," said 33-year-old Howard, who says guests are flying in from Europe, Guam and the mainland.

Approximately 15% of all marriages in the last six months have been same-sex couples.  Retired Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson, who wrote the opinion saying gay couples had a constitutional right to marry, has officiated over many of the ceremonies.

"My couples are averaging over 30 years together.  The record is a couple going into their 48th year.  They were 79 and 92 years old when I married them.  They waited 48 years for the right to do it, so this is a very happy time," said Levinson.

Wedding planner Gigi Lee has been in the business for more than two decades and says after the initial flood of ceremonies in December and January, she's now seeing more couples taking their time to plan something big.

"They're making a huge event out of it.  They're renting boats and having big theme parties -- it's a huge event so there are lots of different elements.  They're going on helicopter rides, so aside from just the wedding itself, I think it's really impacting the tourism industry as well," said Lee.

The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority doesn't track same-sex couple spending, but a University of Hawaiʻi study released last July estimated an additional $217 million in visitor spending spurred by same-sex marriages over the next three years.

"There are people that come here, that it is legal where they live, but it's Hawaiʻi.  We've also seen a lot of people from states where it's not legal, but they know federally it's legal, so who wouldn't want to get married in Hawaiʻi?" Lee said.

According to the Department of Health, 52% of all same-sex marriages have been non-residents.  They say those numbers reflect a similar breakdown for heterosexual couples.  On average more than 20,000 people are married in Hawaiʻi every year.

"For us, it's about fairness.  It's about equality.  It's about aloha.  It's what our home represents.  Regardless, we were going to have that with each other and I said that once the bill passed -- it didn't change our love for each other.  It didn't change how we view each other.  It just changed how we were viewed in the eyes of the state," Luna said.

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