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 also is required.
The requirements prompted a lawsuit by Pastor Laki Kaahumanu and a group of Maui wedding planners, who argued that they violate the First Amendment. The wedding planners complained that the rules hurt business, especially with the rising costs of insurance.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Kaahumanu did not appear to be aware of the ruling but did say that he still believed the permit requirement “seems to be an unconstitutional type of a thing.”
Saying he needed to rush off to perform a wedding, Kaahumanu complained about enforcement, pointing to a case of a photographer who was cited and faces a court date because the person with the permit left the area. He asked why the state is charging a Native Hawaiian a fee to use the beach to officiate a wedding and why the state does not assess fees from churches and people holding birthday parties and other events at the beach.
Despite his objections, Kaahumanu, who says he has done “tens of thousands of weddings,” explained that he “would rather . . . play the game right” and obtains permits for weddings he officiates.
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. He said 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.”
Shasta Rose, owner of Maui Weddings From The Heart, said Wednesday that the state’s permit requirement has not created a problem, noting that she’s been able to obtain a permit on the way to the wedding. She said that the permit process has been positive in some some aspects, because it requires cleanup of the beach after the event and the elimination of chairs; some weddings were setting up too many, she said.
On the downside, Rose, who has been in the wedding-planning business since 1985, said that the permit process adds cost to the wedding and that couples may be going elsewhere for their nuptials because of restrictions on their ceremonies on the beach.
“We can’t have archways and chairs,” she said. “That’s kind of a problem sometimes. Couples will opt for somewhere else.”
There can be no stands of flowers or kahili, just a small table and a circle of flowers, Rose said.
“I wish we would set up a bamboo archway or a few chairs,” she said.
Her experience in the wedding-planning business goes back before permits, and Rose said she does not see the state regulation “as a necessary thing.” She explained that most weddings are performed during sunset when beachgoers are going home.
Rose said that she never had a problem holding weddings on the beach or offending people in the pre-permit era. In fact, beach users often offered to move.
“They respect a wedding and enjoy watching them, and they want to give couples their space,” Rose said.
Jacqueline Johnson, owner of Sweet Hawaii Weddings on Oahu, said that she never had problems with the state and permits.
“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 obtaining 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.