HONOLULU - Retired professors Rod Powell and Bob Eddinger have been partners in life since they met at the University of Hawaii in 1977. On Monday, they joined in marriage on the first day their home state allowed same-sex couples to form such unions.
"I said to Bob, 'Would you choose me again?' And he looked at me and said 'I choose you every day.' And I think that says it all about how we feel about each other," Powell said in an interview before they signed their marriage papers.
Powell, 78, and Eddinger, 74, have raised three children and cared for ailing parents in their 36 years together. They opted not to hold a ceremony for their official union, though. Instead, they took Carolyn Golojuch, a gay rights activist who performed the marriage, and her husband out to lunch.
They tied the knot on the first day to be among those marking the civil rights milestone for gays and lesbians.
"We chose to do it this day to celebrate it as a very significant forward movement in the transformation of society toward equality and justice," Powell said.
It's the second such effort Powell has been involved in. In the early 1960s, he was a leader of the African-American civil rights movement when he was a student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.
The state Department of Health said it had received 179 applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples by midafternoon after it began accepting applications at midnight.
The department said 130 couples were residents of Hawaii, while one or both partners in 49 of the couples lives out of state.
Earlier in the day, six couples at a Waikiki resort were the first in the state to tie the knot shortly after the new law took effect.
"It's about making that commitment to the person that I want to spend the rest of my life with," Saralyn Morales said shortly after cutting a small wedding cake with her spouse, Isajah Morales.
Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the Health Department already has certified 46 same-sex marriages. The state has up to two days to issue a marriage certificate once a marriage is performed if a couple obtains their license online.
Hawaii helped start the national gay marriage discussion more than two decades ago when a same-sex couple was denied a marriage license, leading to a court fight that eventually prompted Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Part of that law, which stipulated that marriage was between a man and a woman, was struck down earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Hawaii, and officials believe that the islands will benefit from the new law. An estimate from a University of Hawaii researcher says the state will get a $217 million tourism boost over the next three years as a result of gay marriage.
The new law allows couples to register for a license and be married the same day, a process that appeals to tourists. Couples can sign up for a license online then be verified by any license agent throughout the state.
Agents have set up shop throughout the islands, from resorts on Maui and the Big Island to hard-to-reach places on Kauai.
Saralyn and Isajah Morales began filling out license applications a few minutes after midnight, along with other couples. Several license agents huddled around four laptops in a tiny conference room, refreshing their Web browsers to coax a state-run website to load.
Keola Akana said he and Ethan Wung were getting married after entering into a civil union last year so they could receive federal benefits.
"Got dinged on taxes last year because we're not legally married federally, and we will be married for taxes this year," Akana said. "Now we're equal to everybody in Hawaii that's married, everybody in the nation and the world that's legally married, so that's an honor."