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Same-sex marriages now legal in Hawaii

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A historic day in Hawai'i as same-sex couples are able to apply for marriage licenses for the first time – many of whom, promptly wed after the "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act of 2013" went into effect at midnight.

Officials with the state Department of Health say there have been no issues with their online system.  They say the first same-sex couple was able to successfully apply within 15 minutes of their site becoming operational at 12:00 a.m. Monday.

A total of 37 couples got married at Sheraton Waikiki's Leahi Club Lounge, which hosted mass ceremonies for anyone wanting to sign up.

Department of Health officials say the success of the event, and others like it, lead to a much quieter morning at the state's marriage license office than expected.

"A lot of people who were anxious to get their license at midnight as soon as they could – wanting to be first – actually did that at the Sheraton and other venues, so this morning we didn't have a long line," explained Keith Yamamoto, Deputy Director of the state's Dept. of Health.

That was just fine for Raymond Gouveia and Ron Root, who after 49 years together, were happily done waiting.

"The engagement was long enough," joked Gouveia, who says they plan to wed at a beach house in Waimanalo next week Monday.

"We're very, very excited to see this finally happen," added Root.

State Registrar Dr. Alvin Onaka agrees.  He says 23 years ago, he was the one who denied three same-sex couples marriage licenses because it wasn't legal to issue them at the time.  They later sued saying the refusal to issue them marriage licenses violated the state constitution.  The Baehr v. Lewin case is widely believed to have spurred the marriage equality movement nationwide.

"It's really historic that I'm able to say yes and not no," said Dr. Alvin Onaka, the State Registrar of Vital Statistics.  "It's a pleasure to tell the others now that Hawai'i is allowing them to get married."

Retired Justice Steven Levinson says he couldn't be happier.  He wrote the landmark Hawai'i Supreme Court decision in the Baehr v. Lewin case that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the state's constitution.

"It feels like the validation of my entire professional life," explained Levinson, who went on to describe his role as full-circle after being asked to officiate a wedding ceremony Monday for a couple who has been waiting 20 years to marry.

"It's amazing, surreal.  We just waited a long time. It's almost unbelievable, but I'm ecstatic," said bride Lisa Veneri, beaming.

"You dream about it and you lobby for it and you write letters and you do what you need to do, yet it's unbelievable until you're actually standing there getting ready to walk down the aisle," described Renea Stewart.

Making things just a little more special for the couple, Levinson was gifted the pen Governor Neil Abercrombie signed the Marriage Equality Act with. Even though marriage certificates are now all issued online, he said he planned to use it.

"Technically, there are no signatures – but this one is going to have a signature," Levinson said with a laugh.

It was a special day for many couples, even those who have not yet planned their wedding – but will soon start to, like Travis Knott who surprised his long-time love D.J. Dole with a proposal at the State Capitol.

With State Representative Chris Lee's help, Knott brought Dole to the Capitol under the guise they were going on a tour.

"We got to the House floor and Travis turned and dropped to his knee, and I was like ‘What are you doing?  Look where we are!  There are people around!' and he started to propose and from then on I just started literally shaking.  After 20 years I was completely blown away," described Dole.

"He said yes," Knott chimed in, as they both laughed.

Knott says he chose the backdrop of the "House battleground" because of its significance in the fight to pass the marriage equality law.

Immediately following the proposal, the couple was able to meet and thank Governor Neil Abercrombie, who signed the "Hawai'i Marriage Equality Act on November 13.

In a statement from the Department of Health: "As of 3 p.m. Monday, the Hawai'i State Department of Health had received 179 online applications for marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  Of the 179 licenses, 46 of the couples were married today and had their marriages registered by the department.  Of the 179 marriage license applications, 49 of the couples identified one or both people as non-residents, and 130 of the couples were both residents of Hawaii."

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