HONOLULU (CN) – Hawaii can require couples to get permits if they want to get married on the beach, the 9th Circuit ruled, finding the permitting process easy and fair.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resource began regulating its 200-plus beaches in 2002 after commercial enterprises such as kayak and surf began taking advantage of the space to store equipment.
After the department began requiring permits for commercial weddings in August 2008, Maui Wedding Professionals and Laki Kaahumanu, a Native Hawaiian pastor who performs religious wedding ceremonies, filed suit.
Wedding applicants must pay at least $20 or 10 cents for each square foot of beach requested. The permit sets a two-hour time limit for the wedding, and it requires that participants do not disturb other beachgoers and leave the beach in a clean condition afterward.
But the federal complaint claimed that the permit requirement unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment and the equal-protection clause by imposing regulation on commercial weddings, but not noncommercial ones. It also challenged the permitting process as “vague.”
A federal judge granted the department summary judgment, and the 9th Circuit mostly upheld the regulations Wednesday.
“The permitting requirement is narrowly tailored to further this interest,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the three-judge panel. “The application process is not burdensome. … Upon submission of the event details and payment of the fee, the Wiki Permits system issues a permit immediately online, which the applicant can then print. The record does not show any instance where an application has been denied.”
Though the 9th Circuit previously struck down permitting requirements for Seattle street performers, it said that precedent does not apply to regulating wedding parties as small as three, the marrying couple and their minister.
Concerns of a procedural and temporal hurdles, as well as the elimination of anonymous and spontaneous speech, “do not apply to beach weddings,” the decision states.
“As described above, the permit applications are easy to fill out and submit online,” Fletcher wrote. “The whole process can be completed within a few minutes if the applicant is already registered, as commercial wedding vendors are likely to be. And the permit is issued immediately after the online application has been submitted. Plaintiffs have expressed no interest in performing secret or spontaneous weddings.”
Limits on what wedding participants can bring to the beaches also survived scrutiny, as did the department’s insurance requirements.
The panel took issue with two provisions of the permit requirement.
“The only provisions that violate the First Amendment are Paragraphs 18 and 21 of the Terms and Conditions, giving to the Chairperson of the Board of DLNR the authority to revoke an already issued permit ‘at anytime and for any reason in [his or her] sole and absolute discretion,’ and giving to DLNR the authority to add terms and conditions to an already issued permit such ‘as it deems necessary or appropriate,'” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the three-judge panel.
Though neither the chairperson nor the department have ever used their powers to “favor some speakers and suppress others,” the judges worried that “the potential for the exercise of such power exists.”