Six same-sex couples married just after midnight today in Hawaii, becoming the first to wed as the state’s new marriage equality law went into effect.
The couples wed at the Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu, reports Hawaii News Now. Some of them had been together as long as 35 years.
“It’s just exciting and historic and we wanted to be a part of it,” Honolulu resident Maria Gallo, who was marrying partner Beth Creary at the Sheraton, told the Associated Press. “This is like a confirmation with a group of people here who are sharing our joy.”
“We started this battle 23 years ago, and we get to finish it tonight,” added Michael Golojuch Jr., chairman of Honolulu Pride and an organizer of the ceremonies, according to the AP.
Three same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in the state in 1990 and were denied, leading to a lawsuit that put the struggle for marriage equality into the national spotlight. The suit made its way through the Hawaii courts and even led to a ruling in the couples’ favor, but that was rendered moot by a constitutional amendment allowing the state legislature to define marriage as an exclusively heterosexual union. Legislators changed that definition last month with their approval of a marriage equality bill, which was then signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Hawaii allows couples to apply for a marriage license and wed the same day, which draws tourists as well as residents to marry there, the AP notes. A University of Hawaii researcher estimates that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples will bring an additional $217 million in tourist spending to the state over the next three years, according to the news service.