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Gay weddings become reality in Hawaii with new law

December 3, 2013

HONOLULU (AP) — Same-sex marriages began in the state of Hawaii on Monday 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 marriage licenses on its website at midnight. The state Department of Health said it had received 179 applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples by midafternoon. The department said 130 of the couples were residents of Hawaii, while one or both partners in 49 of the couples lives out of state.

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.

Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the Health Department already has certified 46 same-sex marriages. 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.

Among those getting married Monday were retired professors Rod Powell, 78, and Bob Eddinger, 74, who have been partners in life and raised three children since they met at the University of Hawaii in 1977.

“I said to Bob, ‘Would you choose me again?’ And he looked at me and said ‘I choose you every day.’ And I think that says it all about how we feel about each other,” Powell said in an interview before they signed their marriage papers.

“We chose to do it this day to celebrate it as a very significant forward movement in the transformation of society toward equality and justice,” Powell said.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have now legalized same-sex marriage.

In Pennsylvania, a court clerk who defied the state’s ban on same-sex marriage by signing licenses for scores of gay couples urged the state’s highest court Monday to overturn an order that required him to stop.

The state Health Department took Hanes to court for violating the law after he began issuing licenses to same-sex couples in July. In September, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered him to stop signing the licenses. By then, Hanes had signed 174 licenses.

Hanes says the court order forced him to violate his oath by complying with a law he regards as unconstitutional. He cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that the federal government could not deny benefits to married same-sex couples who live in states that allow same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, a Mississippi judge on Monday refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple who got married in California, saying the marriage wasn’t recognized under state law, according to the woman who filed and her lawyer.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, who filed for the divorce in September, said she plans to appeal the ruling.

Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office had argued that Mississippi can’t grant a divorce in a marriage it doesn’t recognize. Czekala-Chatham’s lawyer, Wesley Hisaw, said Judge Mitchell Lundy said he felt that “his hands were tied” by Mississippi law.

Mississippi lawmakers amended state law in 1997 to say any same-sex marriage “is prohibited and null and void from the beginning. Any marriage between persons of the same gender that is valid in another jurisdiction does not constitute a legal or valid marriage in Mississippi.”

In 2004, 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved an amendment placing a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

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Oskar Garcia can be reached at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .

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