Federal court: Hawaii can regulate beach weddings
HONOLULU — Hawaii can regulate weddings on public beaches without violating people's right to marry, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
Beach wedding permits required by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources serve a significant governmental interest by protecting more than 200 public beaches in the islands that are under the department's jurisdiction, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
"We recognize that the right to marry is a fundamental right," the ruling states. "But DNLR's regulation of commercial weddings on unencumbered state beaches does not impinge on the right to marry."
Hawaii is rapidly becoming 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 notes, resulting in congestion of some public beaches.
In 2008, the state began requiring permits for commercial weddings. The permit fee is required per event. Liability insurance is also required. If you hire a wedding planner who already has the insurance, the cost is minimal, although if you ask for a permit for your wedding directly from the State, they will charge you an additional fee for the insurance, which may be an additional $75 more.
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.
State officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
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. 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."