KIHEI - Kevin Rebelo and Frank Miholer own a wedding company, and they say they've married more than 4,000 heterosexual couples since 1994.
Couples can choose a Christian, nonreligious or Hawaiian ceremony. And their marriages are celebrated in romantic island settings, with lei and photography, mostly on beaches in Wailea and Makena.
But because Hawaii law does not allow marriages or civil unions of same-sex couples, Rebelo and Miholer can't marry and have their relationship legally recognized by the state.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Kevin Rebelo (left) prepares to enter a name in his marriage log with Frank Miholer in their Kihei home Tuesday afternoon. Hawaii law does not allow the wedding planners to marry, although they’ve been a committed couple for 16 years.
"We have been a couple for 16 years, yet we are not allowed to have the same rights as our married straight neighbors," they said in e-mail this week to The Maui News. "It is quite ironic that we are ordained and licensed to marry couples but are not allowed the same privilege for ourselves."
In a subsequent telephone interview, Rebelo and Miholer told The Maui News they were offended by Sunday's rally of hundreds of church members at the State Building in Wailuku. Coordinated by the Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the iVote Hawaii rally was organized to show lawmakers the numbers of residents wanting to uphold what they see as traditional family values, such as marriage being only between a man and a woman.
Rally participants on Maui and Oahu joined in opposition to House Bill 444, which would extend "the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union." The issue is expected to come before the Legislature as early as this week.
Rebelo, 46, said rally participants implied that gays and lesbians are deviants from society's moral standards. "It's really hurtful," he said, especially when he sees "people of faith going out there."
Rebelo said he'd like society to legally recognize his relationship with Miholer and see that "our relationship is valued just like a straight marriage is valued."
Miholer, 52, agreed.
"I feel frustrated about the lack of understanding by some people of the discrimination that we face," he said.
But Miholer said he's confident marriages and/or civil unions eventually will be allowed in Hawaii for gay and lesbian couples.
"Every group that has struggled for equal rights has obtained it," he said.
Miholer said there are economic and other benefits enjoyed by married couples: they enjoy lower home and auto insurance rates; they can file joint tax returns; and they have legal rights when it comes to inheritance and making decisions about a spouse's medical care.
Rebelo, formerly a citizen of South Africa who received U.S. citizenship five years ago, said one of the major issues with legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples is with immigration status.
If one of the members of a gay or lesbian couple is not a U.S. citizen, then he or she is not allowed to automatically get U.S. residency after his or her work visa expires, he said. But residency status is granted to a non-U.S. citizen if he or she is married to a citizen.
"It's one of the major things we're fighting for," Rebelo said.
Miholer said he doesn't understand it when opponents of civil unions or same-sex marriages say such unions would be an affront to traditional family values.
"I don't know what values they're talking about," he said. "We have family values. We love our family and friends. We love God. We believe God loves everybody, not just a chosen few.
"Our view is that any committed couple should be allowed to marry," he said. "It is the government that issues a marriage license, not the church."
While it may not be as vocal as opponents of civil unions, the gay and lesbian voting bloc in Maui County should not be underestimated, Miholer said.
"There's a very large gay and lesbian community here," he said, estimating the number at "several thousand."
Miholer said he and Rebelo are "gay Christians" who were ordained through the Universal Life Church, which is a Christian church based in Modesto, Calif. They are licensed by the state of Hawaii to perform legal marriages, he said, and have obtained permits from the state to perform weddings on beaches.
Their wedding business is HawaiiWedding.com Inc., which averages about 200 weddings per year, Miholer said.
On the Web:
See the link the Equality Hawaii, an organization supporting passage of the civil union bill. Its Web site is eqfed.org/familyequalityhihome.html.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.