Hawaii Surprises Gay Veterans With The Wedding Of Their Dreams

The state's tourism industry is finally trying to position itself as a destination for same-sex couples.

Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage more than two years ago. But while the Aloha State is a known mecca for destination weddings, it has been slow to reach out to gay couples. 

Now Hawaii's tourism agency wants to change that. 

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, a nonprofit marketing organization that works closely with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, recently planned and executed a surprise wedding for Christian Alarid and Shayne Barnes, a Hawaii couple who have both served in the military. 

On Monday, they released the video of the picturesque wedding, including the surprise arrivals of the couple's friends and families who traveled to Honolulu to see the nuptials. 

And as HVCB Digital Strategist Michael Ni, the creative force behind the video, said, the two men "just exude love.”

The HVCB initially got in touch with the couple last summer after they got engaged. They had been planning a 2016 wedding and had agreed to be models in an August HVCB wedding photo shoot when the marketing folks got a better idea. 

Christian, 24, was let in on the surprise wedding plan and on Nov. 12, the couple shows up for what Shayne, 27, thinks is just another photoshoot.

“This isn’t a shoot," Christian tells him. "It’s the real thing. And today’s the day. Are you willing to marry me?”

Over the next seven hours -- condensed into the six minute video -- family members arrive from the mainland, Shayne painstakingly writes his vows, and the couple arrives at the Kahala Resort and Hotel for their beachside ceremony.

“I was excited and happy so many emotions went through me at one time,” Shayne said. “There was just one surprise after the other. I didn’t know there could be so many surprises.”

When marriage equality became a national reality earlier this year, many cities and states began marketing themselves as same-sex wedding destinations. Industry observers, however, could see opportunity slipping away from Hawaii in a sector -- destination weddings -- where the state enjoys distinct advantages.

“It’s true that we’ve been behind the curve in LGBT marketing," Daniel Chun, a former HCVB staffer who now works for Alaska Airlines, said. "That’s no secret to anyone. The fact that they went in this direction is a very bold step for HVCB. And it’s one the LGBT traveler will definitely notice.”

Honolulu Civil Beat contributed to this report. 

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