Gay marriage boosts economy

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Since the state legalized same-sex marriage, hundreds of gay couples have tied the knot on Hawaii Island, with a majority of them coming from out of state.

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Since the state legalized same-sex marriage, hundreds of gay couples have tied the knot on Hawaii Island, with a majority of them coming from out of state.

As of March 2, 444 same-sex couples wed on the Big Island after the state’s marriage equality law went into effect on Dec. 2, 2013. Those couples accounted for 13.7 percent of all marriage licenses issued on Hawaii Island, according to data provided by the state Department of Health.

Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of the same-sex weddings on the Big Island involved couples in which one or both members were nonresidents.

In a July 2013 research paper, Sumner La Croix, an economics professor with the University of Hawaii, predicted that additional visitor spending across the state as a result of marriage equality could total $217 million during the 2014-16 period.

Via email on Monday, La Croix said he had not crunched the latest numbers, but a cursory look at the data showed the possibility of an even larger impact.

“A quick check of Hawaii DOH figures on numbers of same-sex marriages in Hawaii shows 3,457 same-sex marriages from December 2013 thru February 2015,” he wrote. “The U.S. Census in 2010 shows 3,262 gay/lesbian couples in Hawaii. My earlier reports predicted 1,957 would marry by December 2016.

“If my prediction about in-state couples is correct, this shows about 1,500 out-of-state couples officially marrying here — considerable for 15 months.”

Judith I. Leong, a nondenominational ordained minister based in Kailua-Kona, said Tuesday that the vast majority of the same-sex marriages she performs through her company, Trinity Hawaiian Weddings, are for out-of-state couples.

“It’s definitely more from out of state,” she said. “I think maybe I’ve done two (weddings) for residents who reside here. The rest have been from all over the country, actually. … A lot of them are from the West Coast, because it’s easier to get here. But quite a few are from the East Coast. Not too much from mid-America. … But, I’ve even done weddings from Europe, the U.K., Germany.”

A transplant from Massachusetts, Leong said she’s been performing weddings — for heterosexual and homosexual couples — for 12 years.

“Massachusetts was the leader, the first state to approve same-sex marriages,” she said. “I did quite a few when the law was passed there. Then I came here (in 2009) when it wasn’t legal, and it took time for it to grow. I did a few civil ceremonies during that time.

“But, boy, when the law was passed, it really took off. Oh, my gosh, it’s so much fun. It’s so wonderful to work with people who truly appreciate what’s happening. They’re so grateful they finally get to have what so many others may take for granted.”

Retired Hilo Judge Stuart Oda began marrying couples in 1980, and still serves to officiate in a special room in his law office. Since the new law went into effect, he guesses he’s presided over about a dozen same-sex weddings.

“The first day (after same-sex marriage was legalized), I had a call from a lady in New York state,” Oda said. “As soon as she found out, she called my office from New York and said she wanted to get married. I said ‘What? Where are you coming from?’ She said she was flying to L.A. and catching a cruise ship to Hilo, and she was getting married. She had a female partner, and they both came here to get married 10 days later.”

Gay couples are “no different from anybody else,” Oda said. “They’re just regular people. They’re just very happy. They’ve finally decided, and oh my, it’s like they’re free. They don’t have to hide in the closet anymore. In that sense, they’re jubilant.”

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Eighty-six same-sex marriages accounted for 32 percent of all licenses issued on island in the initial rush of the first month the state’s marriage equality law went into effect. That number then leveled off, averaging about 30 a month, according to the Department of Health.

It’s difficult to gauge how much money may have been added to Hawaii Island’s economy by same-sex marriage, but according to wedding statistics site theweddingreport.com, the average wedding on the island costs more than $30,000. If that number holds true for all couples, 444 same-sex marriages on the island could have contributed almost $14 million.

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