• Gay couple Christian Alarid and Shayne Barnes (YouTube)Source: YouTube
Hawaii began its marketing campaign for gay and lesbian couples who are planning to marry by throwing one same-sex couple a surprise gay wedding.
Drew Sheldrick

5 Jan 2016 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 5 Jan 2016 - 3:26 PM

Hawaii's Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) found a unique way to kick off its marketing campaign targeting same-sex couples by throwing a surprise wedding for two US military veterans.

Christian Alarid (24) and Shayne Barnes (27) originally thought they were taking part in a photo shoot for the marketing campaign. The HVCB contacted them following their engagement last year, according to Honolulu's Civil Beat.

Alarid is eventually let in on the surprise and reveals to his partner on the day of the shoot that they'll actually be getting married.

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

HCVB worked with local resorts and hotels for the wedding and its accompaying six-minute video, as well as with Alaska Airlines to bring over the couple's family. The video, which was released on December 30, has now had millions of views across social media.

One estimate puts the amount that Hawaii makes from gay weddings at approximately $27 million-a-year.

The island state has long been the centre of same-sex marriage activity in the US. It first ignited the country's marriage equality debate in 1990 when three same-sex couples walked into the state Department of Health in Honolulu to apply for marriage licenses.

Their case ended up in the Hawaii state Supreme Court which issued a landmark decision in 1993 ruling that the state's refusal to grant same-sex couples marriage licenses was discriminatory.

It provoked other US states into adopting bans on same-sex marriage, and eventually led to former US president Bill Clinton's signing of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which banned recognition of same-sex marriages under federal law.

Voters in Hawaii approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 reserving marriage to opposite-sex couples, before the state's legislature finally granted same-sex couples the right to marry in November 2013.