Hawaii gay marriage law goes into effect

The first couples to take advantage of Hawaii's newfound law allowing same-sex couples to marry line up for a group picture at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel in Honolulu.

HONOLULU (AP) - The first couples are starting to take advantage of Hawaii's newfound aloha for gay weddings.

Dozens of couples were expected to start tying the knot early Monday, moments after midnight, when a new law allowing same couples to marry takes effect in the state.

Couples at the Sheraton Waikiki began filling out license applications a few minutes after midnight, as license agents huddled around four laptops in a conference room adjacent to a 30th floor lounge where the ceremonies were set to take place.

Guests sipped champagne, dined on appetizers, listened to piano music and took pictures with each of seven cakes on display for the occasion, one for each of the first six couples getting married and a three-tiered centerpiece cake adorned with pink and white roses.

"Next," exclaimed Ethan Wung after being the first of the group to complete the license application with his groom, Keola Akana.

Wung said he and Akana were getting married after entering into a civil union last year so they could receive federal benefits.

Organizers were waiting for each of the first six couples to finish their paperwork before starting the ceremony.

The resort was hosting mass ceremonies for anyone wanting to sign up, while a group of clergy who pushed for the new law planned to host a wedding for an openly gay Unitarian minister at a church near downtown Honolulu.

"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 earlier.

"This is like a confirmation with a group of people here who are sharing our joy," she said.

Hawaii's marriage laws allow couples to register for a license and be married the same day, a process conducive for tourists to hold ceremonies here.

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.

For those wanting to get licenses in person, Hawaii's Health Department planned to open its doors at 8 a.m. local time Monday morning.

"We started this battle 23 years ago and we get to finish it tonight," said Michael Golojuch Jr., chairman on Honolulu Pride and one of the organizers of the midnight weddings at the Sheraton.

Hawaii is often credited with starting the national gay marriage discussion, when couples applying for a marriage license led to a court fight the 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 Hawaii will get a $217 million tourism boost over the next three years as a result of gay marriage.

Hawaii's Legislature - overwhelmingly comprised of Democrats - passed the law last month during a special session. Gov. Neil Abercrombie called for the special session after the U.S. Supreme Court rulings.