Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightThe Hawaii Department of Health released new information late last month regarding the state’s civil union law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, granting the Islands’ same-sex couples an opportunity to obtain essentially the same legal rights and benefits of a traditional marriage.

“People in Hawaii and in other parts of the world are eager to get more information and begin planning their civil union ceremonies in Hawaii,” Alvin Onaka, the Hawaii DOH state registrar, said in a statement. “We will be ready at midnight on Jan. 1 with an accurate and efficient online process that will serve the public well for submitting applications, paying fees, registering events and receiving their certificates for civil unions.”

The legislation, signed into law by Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie in February, also allows gay and lesbian couples from out of state to apply for and receive civil union licenses during their visit, which has led to a dramatic boost in business for some local destination wedding planners.

“We’ve probably seen five times as many bookings for 2012,” said Frank Miholer, who runs Maui-based with his partner, Kevin Rebelo. “People are excited, and we’ve had a really good response.”

Miholer would like to see the state’s tourism marketing agencies launch promotions aimed specifically at the gay, lesbian and transgender community on the U.S. mainland, spreading the word about the new law.

“I think the state should be more aggressive,” he explained. “Valid statistics show that the gay and lesbian community has a higher disposable income than straight people, and Hawaii traditionally has been marketing to segments around the world that have a higher disposable income, such as Japan.”

Miholer, who pays agents 10% commission on wedding packages and has arranged more than 4,000 gay and straight ceremonies with his partner in the past 16 years, said local equality organizations are urging both the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to modify their approach.

“I think it’s just part of an education process,” he said. “They’re not used to putting gay people in their websites and brochures and encouraging gays to come here.”

Asked whether the HTA had any future plans to market specifically to the gay and lesbian communities, state officials responded with the following statement from HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney:

“We welcome all individuals who travel to Hawaii and are drawn here to experience the Hawaiian Islands and our people, place and culture. Our leisure marketing programs target travelers who cut across all demographic segments wanting to embrace and experience the destination. Hawaii’s marketing efforts highlight activities that are the core strengths of the Hawaiian Islands rather than any specific demographic segments.”

Visit the Hawaii Department of Health’s recently launched civil union website at
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