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Starting today, same-sex marriage is legal in Hawaii. And now state officials, as well as hotels and restaurants, are hoping that will boost the state's business in weddings and honeymoons. Molly Solomon of Hawaii Public Radio reports.
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MOLLY SOLOMON, BYLINE: Wedding planner Key-en Akao is showing off a secluded beach wedding site, one of several on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
KEY-EN AKAO: And so you can use the beach for pictures. And this is actually called Secret Beach.
SOLOMON: His company, Perfectly Planned Hawaii, offers wedding planning for same-sex couples. Swaying palm trees and clear blue water makes for a dream ceremony.
AKAO: One of the areas in which we would have a ceremony would be here and then people could have their reception between the coconut trees.
SOLOMON: Akao started his company with his business partner less than six months ago, just before Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie called for a special session to debate same-sex marriage.
AKAO: People now can look at Hawaii as a destination to have their marriage done legally. And for it to be recognized by the federal government, no matter what state they may live in.
SOLOMON: So far, he's received over two dozen confirmations since the bill passed last month. One couple planning to marry in the islands is Cira Abiseid and Cyrilla Owle. Last month, they celebrated their union in a ceremony with family and friends at home in Conway, Arkansas. But since their home state doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, Owle says they're now going to Hawaii to make it official.
CYRILLA OWLE: I think there's two things that came in effect when planning where we wanted to be married. First, like any couple, we wanted to see where we wanted to go for our honeymoon. So who doesn't want to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon right? And the second was, you know, where could we get a license.
SUMNER LARCROIX: Same sex couples will be attracted to Hawaii for the same reasons that opposite sex couples are attracted to Hawaii. It's the great weather, it's the warm water, it's the beautiful scenery. And it's also the aloha spirit.
SOLOMON: Sumner Lacroix is an economist at the University of Hawaii. He estimates that over the next three years, gay marriage will boost tourism in Hawaii by $217 million. Unlike some other states with marriage equality laws, Hawaii already has a booming tourism industry. Lacroix believes that gives Hawaii an advantage.
LARCROIX: The machinery of marriage is already in place here. There are hotels that are in the marriage business. They're used to catering to couples who are honeymooning or want to get married or are celebrating a marriage. There are wedding photographers. There are caterers. There's large number of firms that are specialized in the marriage business.
SOLOMON: In Hawaii, tourism is a $14 billion industry. Now, the island chain is positioning itself for a spike in visitors. Among them, Honolulu- based hotel chain Aqua Hospitality. It already offers LGBT travel deals, including one called the Out and Proud package and another strangely called the Civil Unions romance special, the latter of which comes with a Kama Sutra Getaway Love Kit.
And bigger beachfront resorts are also getting in on the action. The Sheraton Waikiki is the only hotel on Oahu providing on-site marriage licenses. General Manager Kelly Sanders says now the hotel is running a new ad campaign in mainland LGBT publications.
KELLY SANDERS: And yes, there's a revenue opportunity. There's an opportunity for all of us to have that great success, but in my mind it's something that should have happened already. And so it's just now being able to really open all of our arms as wide as they can be and say welcome.
SOLOMON: It was Hawaii after all, that back in 1991 touched off the national conversation about same-sex marriage. Then three couples sued to force the state to issue them marriage licenses. Now more than two decades later, Hawaii is the latest state to recognize marriage equality. For NPR news, I'm Molly Solomon in Honolulu.
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