Marriage for Hawaii’s gay and lesbian couples becomes a reality
Six same-sex couples are first to tie knot at a Waikiki ceremony.
On Dec. 1, Paul Perry, Carolyn Golojuch and Gary Bradley spent their afternoon at the Mission Memorial Auditorium for a wedding rehearsal.
PHOTO: DIANE LEE
The Hawaii State Department of Health opened its doors at 8 a.m. today for couples to apply for marriage licenses. But many same-sex couples couldn’t wait, exchanging wedding rings shortly after midnight Dec. 2, the first day Hawaii’s Marriage Equality Act took effect.
Waikiki residents Gary Bradley and Paul Perry were one of those couples. Dressed in matching green and white aloha shirts, they exchanged wedding rings shortly after midnight at the same time five other gay and lesbian couples married—the first in a series of ceremonies at the Sheraton Waikiki.
“It gives us the full recognition we’ve never had before,” Bradley says. “It’s not just about us, but our friends and other people who have fought for equality for so long.”
Across town, another couple tied the knot at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu in Nuuanu Valley. Minister Jonipher Kupono Kwong married his partner of 15 years, Chris Nelson. More than 150 friends, family, clergy, church members and state representatives, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, witnessed the invitation-only wedding ceremony.
Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage when Abercrombie signed it into law on Nov. 13.
“With the stroke of a koa pen, he declared 'done,'" Kwong told the crowd with Abercrombie sitting in the front row. “But with all due respect, governor, I don’t think we’re done, because it’s one thing to sign a bill into law and yet another to see it enacted and to see it in action here tonight.”
Rep. Kaniela Ing, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Chris Nelson, Jonipher Kupono Kwong and Rep. Chris Lee.
Photo: Diane Lee
After the first six couples were married at the Sheraton Waikiki's Leahi Club Lounge, other couples could walk in to apply for marriage licenses on computer stations set up in the lounge and get married right on the spot. With candlelights flickering and soft piano music playing in the background, couples looked into each others' eyes and held hands. They exchanged wedding rings, said "I dos" and embraced with a kiss or two.
"By the power vested in me by the state of Hawaii, it gives me great pleasure to pronounce you that you are married, wife to wife," said one officiant who wed a couple at the ceremony.
Bradley and Perry's wedding ceremony was officiated by longtime friend Carolyn Golojuch with six of the couples' closest friends present.
"I just couldn't stop smiling," Golojuch says.
This wasn't the first time she has overseen their union. Bradley, 52, and Perry, 38, were also the first men to enter into a Hawaii civil union when that law took effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
"I've gotten to know them over the years as a loving couple," Golojuch says.
The couple met at a Waikiki neighborhood bar on Aug. 1, 2008, and have been together ever since. For Bradley and Perry, this wedding represented the end of a long political fight.
Bradley says he was angry when former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed civil union legislation in 2010, so he later joined the lawsuit Jackson v. Abercrombie challenging the state’s law reserving marriage between a man and a woman. The case was delayed in court when Abercrombie called the state Legislature into special session to consider legalizing gay marriage in the state.
"It is not a woe is us; It is a wow is us," Bradley says. "It’s, look how much we’ve done and look how far we’ve come."
They're most eager to receive the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples.
“It is good to be able to say in the state of Hawaii, everyone is treated the same,” Perry says. “And hopefully it will have a domino effect and more states will come on board.”
Sheraton Waikiki's director of food and beverage, Brian Hunnings says it was a privilege to take part in the wedding of almost 40 couples. The last couple ended around 3 a.m.
"You look around the room and you see the amount of happiness and love—love is love—and it was flowing all over the place tonight," Hunnings says. "We're happy to be the host."
Read our previous coverage from the special session.