Longtime Hilo couple gets hitched on state’s first day of legalized gay marriage
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By COLIN M. STEWART
If the old adage “Practice makes perfect” holds true, then the union of the first same-sex couple to tie the knot Monday in Hilo is likely to be perfect indeed. The intimate wedding ceremony they observed in front of the State Office Building on Aupuni Street around 9:45 a.m. was a small one, but being the couple’s third time around, they didn’t feel the need to make a big affair out of it, said Linda “Souza” Kamalamalama de Souza.
“When we had our civil union performed for us, that was a ceremony that was so beautiful. … We had our family members and friends there. It was so beautiful, it was never to be improved,” she said. “In our minds, and in our hearts, after that we were already married. This time around, we’re basically just making it official.”
The Kalapana couple — de Souza, 68, and her bride, 61-year-old Wilhemina “Aunty Willy” Kuualohaonapua de Souza-Kamalamalama — have been together for 35 years, and have waited patiently as Hawaii took its tentative steps toward marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.
Years ago, they first committed to each other under the state’s former “reciprocal beneficiary” law, which afforded them some of the protections under the law that married couples enjoyed, although not all. Then, they were among the first couples in the state to apply for and complete a civil union when that law went into effect in January 2012.
And on Monday, they were second in line at the State Office Building in Hilo and ended up being the first to file their completed application in person.
“I never really thought we would be alive to see this day,” de Souza said. “I finally feel like we’re on equal parity with the rest of the people who are married. … We’ve had our health issues, and I’ve almost lost Willy four different times (to illness). This really was the will of God, us being here today … and all those people who said that it’s not God’s will, that just shows their ignorance. But I’ve already forgiven them for their ignorance.”
The couple was among about four or five others in Hilo that had appointments to seek marriage licenses on Monday, the first day for same-sex couples to do so after the law went into effect at midnight, said Mary Farias, a license agent with the state Department of Health.
“We’ve had quite a few people make appointments, and I think West Hawaii is expecting bigger numbers,” she said.
The state began accepting applications for licenses on its website at midnight. Before noon, Hawaii had issued about 40 licenses for same-sex marriages, with the majority being on Oahu, according to state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo.
Saralyn Morales was among six couples who tied the knot at a 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.
Okubo said the Health Department already has certified one same-sex marriage and was verifying documents for two dozen more. 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.
Agents have set up shop across the islands, from resorts on Maui and the Big Island to hard-to-reach places on Kauai.
Saralyn and Isajah Morales began filling out license applications a few minutes after midnight, along with other couples. Several license agents huddled around four laptops in a tiny conference room, refreshing their web browsers to coax a state-run website to load.
A few feet away, wedding guests sipped champagne, dined on curried shrimp and portabella mushroom sliders, listened to piano music and took pictures with the seven cakes on display for the occasion.
Couples who walked in to register on the spot posed with a three-tiered centerpiece cake, adorned with pink and white roses.
“Next!” Keola Akana exclaimed after being the first of the group to complete the license application with his groom, Ethan Wung. Akana said he and Wung were getting married after entering into a civil union last year so they could receive federal benefits.
“Got dinged on taxes last year because we’re not legally married federally, and we will be married for taxes this year,” Akana said. “Now we’re equal to everybody in Hawaii that’s married, everybody in the nation and the world that’s legally married, so that’s an honor.”
One of the organizers, Honolulu Pride Chairman Michael Golojuch Jr., said early Monday that more than three dozen couples had signed up to wed.
“We started this battle 23 years ago and we get to finish it tonight,” Golojuch said.
Hawaii businesses now are looking for ways to embrace the gay community, he said.
“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.”
Oskar Garcia of the Associated Press contributed to this article.