Take a stroll down the streets of Waikiki and you’re likely to see one, two or even ten Japanese wedding couples. The bride often dons a Cinderella ballgown, the groom a shiny silver suit, and both of them smile enthusiastically as relatives wave and snap photos.
Last year, about 1.45 million Japanese tourists visited Hawaii, and a significant fraction of them came to get married or attend a wedding. The Central Union church in Honolulu, for example, conducts about fifty wedding ceremonies a month, most of them destination weddings.
Many churches in Hawaii rely heavily on the income from these wedding ceremonies to keep themselves running. Renting one of Central Union’s venues costs $1,800 (among other add-on options, a harpist is available for another $200).
But if a special session of the Hawaii state senate passes a bill legalizing same-sex marriage next week, these churches will face a very difficult decision.
According to the public accommodations law in Hawaii, any church that makes a profit from ceremonies conducted on its property may not discriminate against a certain group -- or couple -- from holding those ceremonies.
So, for those churches that are against same-sex marriage, the choice will come down to bottom lines: their accountant’s vs.the Bible’s. In order to keep any cash flow from weddings, they must allow same-sex ceremonies in their institutions.
At Central Union church, no decisions are being made quite yet. “The United Church of Christ is all over the place on this issue nationally as well as here,” Rev. David Hirano told KITV. “There are some who are against same sex marriage and others who are open to it but each church has to make that decision."
Should same-sex marriage become legal in Hawaii, Central Union’s church committee will make a recommendation and then let its congregation decide.
Churches won’t have much time to deliberate, however. If the special session allows same-sex marriage, ceremonies could begin as early as November 18.