HONOLULU -- Hawaii can regulate weddings on public beaches without violating people's right to marry, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Permits required by the state help protect more than 200 public beaches in the islands, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
"We recognize that the right to marry is a fundamental right," the ruling says. "But ... regulation of commercial weddings on unencumbered state beaches does not impinge on the right to marry."
Hawaii is a popular location for destination weddings, with couples from all over the world bringing friends and family to the islands to witness their nuptials on a sandy shore.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, commercial recreational beach activities were largely unregulated, the ruling says, resulting in congestion of some public beaches.
In 2008, the state began requiring permits for commercial weddings. The permit fee is 10 cents per square foot of beach area, with a minimum of $20 per event. Liability insurance is also required.
The requirements prompted a lawsuit by Pastor Laki Kaahumanu and a group of Maui wedding planners, who argued they violate the First Amendment.
The wedding planners complained that the rules hurt business, especially with the rising costs of insurance.
A major concern of wedding planners was that state officials could arbitrarily revoke or cancel permits and that sometimes weddings were interrupted to do so, said the plaintiffs' Maui attorney, James Fosbinder. The ruling should calm those fears, saying state officials can't revoke a permit after it's been issued.
"Wedding planners want to know that once they get a permit, it won't be taken away, especially if you've got family coming from the mainland," Fosbinder said. "That was the nightmare scenario."
The beaches are a precious resource, said Joshua Wisch, spokesman for the state attorney general, and the court "recognized that the state has an important role in protecting those beaches, and regulating commercial activity is a part of that."
Jacqueline Johnson, owner of Sweet Hawaii Weddings on Oahu, said she never had problems.
"The state has been pretty lenient," she said. "I don't have any complaints."
She said she understands why it's necessary to have a permit, but since the wedding industry helps fuel the economy, "they shouldn't make it too difficult for the wedding planners."
Wedding planners were initially resistant to permits because they could just show up at a beach in the past, said Penei Aller, co-owner of Beach Weddings Hawaii on the Big Island. But as the industry grows, she said it's helpful to go on the state's permitting website to see what other weddings are scheduled at a particular beach.