What the federal court ruling on Hawaii beach weddings means for you



So you have the ring, set the date and now you are looking for the perfect place to get married.

If you're thinking about a destination wedding in Hawaii, you may be interested to know that your fantasy beach wedding may come with a hitch.  

On Wednesday a federal appeals court ruled that Hawaii can regulate weddings on public beaches without violating people's right to marry, which means that people who want to get married on the beach, can but have to pay. 

In 2008, the state began requiring permits for commercial weddings. The permit fee is 10 cents per square foot of requested beach area, with a minimum of $20 per event. Liability insurance is also required, which can vary based on the type of wedding people want and the companies they hire.

The requirements prompted a lawsuit by Pastor Laki Kaahumanu and a group of Maui wedding planners, who argued they violate the First Amendment. The planners complained that the rules hurt business, especially with the rising costs of insurance.

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Wedding planners in Hawaii say they get a lot of  requests for beach weddings but have to manage expectations of the happy couple.  While the permits don't regulate the size of your wedding, like everything about celebrating the big day, the bigger the party, the more expensive the permit.

Wedding planner Kelly Sugno, owner of A Perfect Day, says the state also prohibits alcohol on the beach, which makes large wedding receptions on the beach difficult anyway.

"Most of the beach wedding we see are small, from 10 to 30 guests," says Sugno, the smallest wedding required by permit. "I don't see that the state is  making a whole lot of money off it. To me $20 is not a hardship."

Over the years Hawaii has become 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.

A major concern 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. 

Wednesday's ruling should calm those fears, saying state officials can't revoke a permit after it's been issued. It will also help ensure that the public beaches will be remain beautiful for tourists and future weddings.  

"There are public spaces, so it should be monitored so that things don’t get damaged," says Sugno.