LAHAINA - The phrases "now I pronounce you husband and husband" and "wife and wife" were heard at same-sex marriages around Maui on Monday, the first day that gay marriages in Hawaii were legal.
"It means the world to me, we want to spend the rest of our lives together. To make it official here is so fantastic," said Brent Echols of Portland, Ore, shortly after he was married under the Lahaina sun.
Echols married his partner of 16 years, Dan Merfeld, at Baby Beach near the Lahaina Jodo Mission on Monday around 9 a.m., hours after same sex-marriages became legal at midnight. The couple, wearing lei, and two friends were on Maui for the EA Sports Maui Invitational basketball tournament last week; Echols and Merfeld decided to wed after they heard that they would be able to.
Oregon couple Brent Echols and Dan Merfeld were married Monday morning at Baby Beach near the Lahaina Jodo Mission by the Rev. Kimo Kirkman (right). Merfeld is signing the marriage certificate.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Lisa Judd (left) and her partner of 12 years, Kellyn Anne Miller, now Kellyn Anne Judd, share a special moment following their wedding Monday morning at 505 Front Street. The Lahaina couple laughed and cried during their ceremony attended by a handful of family and friends.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
Kahului couple Jolene and Temehani Bernard-Garcia were one of the first Maui gay couples to be married Monday, the first day that same-sex marriages were legal in Hawaii. Jolene is holding an urn that contains the ashes of Temehani’s father, Samuel Bernard. The couple were married at Kahului Harbor shortly after midnight Sunday.
Photo courtesy of JOLENE and TEMEHANI BERNARD-GARCIA
Hawaii was the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Illinois has since become the 16th state, with its law to take effect in June.
Echols, a nephrology clinical educator, and Merfeld, a telecom engineer, were married in Oregon in 2004; that state permitted more than 3,000 same-sex marriage before a judge halted the practice. Later that year, Oregon and 10 other states approved constitutional amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
"We tried it in 2004, and they said no," Merfeld told Echols during their vows.
But Monday, their dreams were fulfilled; they were among nearly 50 same-sex couples across the state to tie the knot.
The state Department of Health said Monday afternoon that it wasn't able to break down the numbers of same-sex marriage licenses issued by island, but statewide as of 3 p.m. there were 179 same-sex marriage licenses issued. Of that number, 46 couples were married and had their nuptials registered with the state Monday, said Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo on Monday afternoon.
Of the licenses issued statewide, 130 couples were Hawaii residents; the remaining 49 had at least one spouse indicate being a visitor.
Sherilynn Takushi, a private Maui marriage license agent, said Monday afternoon that she processed five same-sex marriage licenses for couples, including the one for Echols and Merfeld.
On Nov. 13, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill legalizing gay marriage in Hawaii after a contentious special session of the Legislature. The bill was passed by the state Senate and House after lengthy public testimony both for and against the measure, with both sides crowding the state Legislature for a week and a half of deliberations.
Hawaii's gay marriage debate began in 1990 when two women applied for a marriage license that led to a court battle and a 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court decision that supported the women's right to marry. The state high court said that the rights of the women to equal protection were violated by outlawing their marriage.
The Hawaii ruling contributed to congressional passage of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Part of that law was struck down this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was that Supreme Court decision that led Abercrombie to call the special session that led to the changing of the law.
One of the first couples on the island to take advantage of the new law was Temehani and Jolene Bernard-Garcia of Kahului, who got married just after midnight Sunday at Kahului Harbor after securing the paperwork.
"Our mission to get married was to be the first lesbian couple in Maui," said Temehani on Monday afternoon.
They will have another, larger ceremony in the future, when they will invite more friends and family members, she said. There were about a half-dozen people who witnessed the ceremony early Monday with the backdrop of the harbor lights.
"It was just so awesome," Temehani said, adding that the world is changing and that people are recognizing others for whom they are.
"Now especially in Hawaii, we practice aloha," she said.
Back in Lahaina, Lisa Judd and her partner of 12 years, Kellyn Anne Miller, now Kellyn Anne Judd, couldn't believe at midmorning Monday that their wedding day had arrived.
"There's a lot of chicken skin. I never expected to have this opportunity," Lisa said, noting that as a lesbian, she had started to accept that there would be different rules for gays.
Before reciting her wedding vows at 505 Front Street, Kellyn said that she felt like she was making history and alluded to Rosa Parks sitting on the bus in Alabama in the 1950s to gain equality for African-Americans.
She said that the couple had been planning the special day for weeks. As soon as Hawaii made the law official, she was on the phone to Lisa, who was tending to family business in Oregon.
Lisa then asked Kellyn:
'' 'Are you going to marry me?' ''
The answer was "yes."
The couple moved from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Maui five years ago. They previously had a commitment ceremony - not even the civil union that was legal in Hawaii - on a beach in Napili. That ceremony pales in comparison to the magnitude of their wedding, the couple said.
They enjoyed Hawaiian music played on an ukulele shortly after their ceremony, with just a few family members and close friends.
After the morning wedding, the newlyweds were headed to a reception at Betty's Beach Cafe at 505 Front Street. They made sure there were flowers and a cake.
The couple was not bothered by pending challenges to the Hawaii law on their wedding day. State Rep. Bob McDermott has filed a motion in state court to invalidate the same-sex marriage law. A hearing is scheduled next month.
"We have full faith it will stand," Lisa said.
Echols and Merfeld said Oregon will recognize their marriage made on Maui. In fact, same-sex marriage will be on the Oregon ballot next fall.
"This is going to stick," Echols said of the Maui wedding.
Merfeld said that not only are the two now legally married, but they can now enjoy the same rights as heterosexual married couples.
"It means that we are protected. There is no gray area with medical and financial decisions," Merfeld added.
* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.