HONOLULU — For years, the Rev. Fay Hovey has held romantic ceremonies on the sand for gay partners who want to pledge their love in Hawaii. The couples take photos and memories with them, but they lack a legal and binding recognition of their relationship.
That will change when same-sex civil unions soon become law in the Rainbow State.
"They have that fantasy just like any other couple, to come and have a wedding and a honeymoon," said Hovey, of Aloha Maui Gay Weddings, who hopes for an increase in commitment ceremonies. "When they come to Hawaii, everybody can relax in their spirits and feel included."
Hawaii lawmakers gave final approval to civil unions Wednesday and sent the legislation to Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who plans to sign it into law within 10 business days. Civil unions would begin Jan. 1, 2012, making the state the seventh in the nation to grant virtually the same rights of marriage to same-sex couples without authorizing marriage itself.
The culturally diverse islands — with their swaying palm trees, picturesque sunsets and wind-swept sands — are already a welcoming place for gay tourists, including some who seek informal partnership ceremonies.
With civil unions, those ceremonies would come with a certificate that's valid in other states with civil unions or same-sex marriage, depending on their local laws. Five states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage.
Hawaii, known as one of the nation's premier locations for destination weddings and honeymoons, also will allow gay couples to get civil unions even if they don't come from states with compatible laws. This could provide a boost to the tourism-dependent islands that are trying to recover from the recession.
"It will certainly drive more tourism and bring more people to us," said Michael Waddell, general manager for the Maui Sunseeker, a resort catering to gay clientele. "They come here because they can be comfortable and they can be themselves."