MIAMI –– Lesbian and gay couples were married in Miami today by the same judge who said she saw no reason why they couldn’t immediately get their licences ahead of Florida’s coming-out party, as the nation’s 36th state where same-sex marriages are legal statewide.
The addition of Florida’s 19.9 million people means 70 per cent of Americans now live in states where gay marriage is legal. It also reflects how much the nation’s third largest state has changed since the days of Anita Bryant, the former beauty pageant queen and orange juice spokeswoman who started her national campaign against gay rights in Miami in the 1970s.
“It means that we’re no different than any other couple in the US,” said Bill Munette, a realtor in Pinellas County, Florida, who had a commitment ceremony with his partner in March, 2000.
The courtroom erupted in cheers when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel cleared the way for the licences issued to Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, and Jeff and Todd Delmay. Then she presided over their weddings in a dual ceremony.
The first same-sex marriage licence officially issued in Florida went to another pair of women –– Deborah Shure and Aymarah Robles –– who attended the hearing, and later discovered they were first in line at the clerk’s desk.
“We’re just happy for everyone here,” said Robles, who plans a low-key wedding tomorrow.
Other same-sex marriages were expected to happen around the state after midnight tomorrow, when US District Judge Robert L. Hinkle’s ruling, covering all 67 counties, was set to take effect. Both judges found that the same-sex wedding ban in Florida’s constitution violated the guarantees of equal treatment and due process enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Large-scale ceremonies in Orlando, Tampa, Key West and Broward County were planned for tomorrow. Other couples planned to take
“We want to do it right,” said Munette, who is 48, and is planning a March 2016 wedding with his 55-year-old partner Robb Schoonmaker.
“We don’t want to rush to get it done. We’re planning it just like any normal couple would.”
But while the news was largely met with cheers or even shrugs from Florida’s more liberal enclaves such as South Florida and St Petersburg, signs of opposition to the rulings were evident farther north, where more conservative Floridians live.
In Jacksonville, Duval County Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell shut down the courthouse chapel, saying no marriage ceremonies –– either gay or straight –– would be allowed there. At least two other counties in northeast Florida did the same.
“Mr Fussell said some of his people felt a little uncomfortable doing it,” said Charlie Broward, a spokesman for the clerk. “It could cause discriminations down there [in the marriage licence department] with those who are uncomfortable. We wanted to eliminate any unfairness.”
Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group based in the Orlando area, sought to file complaints in several counties today in an effort to block clerks from issuing licences to same-sex couples, said the group’s lawyer Horatio “Harry” Mihet.
The group already tried to block Osceola County’s clerk in a complaint filed on behalf of Florida Family Action, Inc., but that advocacy group’s case was dismissed last week. A similar case is pending in Orange County.
Mihet still hopes for success in the courts, and said “the fact that some clerks may issue licences against the law doesn’t obviate any of the appeals”.
The state’s Catholic bishops issued a joint statement today expressing disappointment, saying implications of gay marriages were not fully understood and would upend millennia of tradition.
“Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults,” it said.