Florida: Gay Marriage Ban Ends As Same-Sex Couples Wed Across State

Florida Gay Marriage

Florida’s ban on gay marriage ended on January 5 and court clerks were rather quick to issue marriage licenses and conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples during the early hours of the day. However, they lost the race to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel, who saw no need in waiting for the statewide ban to expire and decided to preside over Florida’s first legally recognized gay marriage at midnight. Other counties waited until a day after to conduct official ceremonies, when United States District Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling over Florida’s gay marriage ban being unconstitutional came to effect in 67 counties.

“It's been a long time coming. We're just so excited and so happy,” said Osceola County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb.

Gay Marriage

Wearing matching white pants and embroidered shirts, Grieb and Patti Daugherty, who have been partners for 22 years, tied the knot under a canopy of ribbons and laces at a courthouse in Kissimmee, south of Orlando. Armando Ramirez, a county clerk, officiated the couple’s marriage, as gay rights advocates counted down to midnight.

Gay Marriage

Florida is the third most populated state in the United States with an estimated 19.9 million people living there. On Monday, it became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Currently, 70 percent of Americans live in states where gay couples have the right to wed legally. In many states that lie towards the south near Florida, gay marriage bans are yet to be done away with. That makes Florida a safe haven for same-sex couples that wish to get married.

Gay Marriage

While the end of the ban was received with cheers from the state’s more liberal enclaves, cultural and political divisions continue to remain in Florida, especially in the north, where most of the residents are more conservative. In Jacksonville, for instance, Ronnie Fussell, Duval County Court Clerk, closed the courthouse chapel, saying no marriages would take place there – irrespective of whether the couples are gay or straight. Additionally, two other counties acted in the same manner.

“The day is going to come very soon where America is going to wake up and say, ‘Whoa! Wait a second! I wanted two guys to live together. I didn't want the fundamental transformation of society,’” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy council, who led the petition drive in favor of a gay marriage ban in 2008.

Gay Marriage

In Key West, which is Florida’s southernmost tip, gay couples faced no obstacles at all. William Lee Jones and Aaron Huntsman received the area’s first marriage license in the early hours of Tuesday. Both wore matching blue vests with black tuxedos as they vowed to be together forever in front several hundred people inside Monroe County Courthouse. After exchanging their vows, Jones removed a large silver-colored bracelet that he wore on his left wrist, referring to it as his shackle for inequality.

“I'm elated. Overjoyed that I am finally legally recognized with the man I have loved for 12 years now,” he said.

Gay Marriage

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to pursue appeals at not only the state level but also the federal level, because she wants to uphold the  ban that voters had approved in 2008. However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals as well as the Supreme Court refused her appeal to extend the order blocking same-sex marriages beyond January 5. That meant same-sex couples could go on and tie the knot any time after Monday. Bondi shares her stance with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has been considering a Republican run for President. They both believe marriage should be defined individually by each state.

On Monday though, even Bush attempted to come to terms with the current situation, urging people to “Show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

Florida Gay Marriage

These political divides, however, barely bothered the same-sex couples that were busy celebrating through Monday and Tuesday. While churches conducted mass weddings for couples, other cities and counties in Florida did the same at courthouses and city halls respectively. Over 40 couples tied the knot Tuesday morning on the carpet-draped staircase of Orlando’s City Hall. A four-tiered cake with rainbow colours at the bottom was brought in and the city’s gay chorus ‘Over the Rainbow’ was sung as well, as gay couples marched in with their children to have their marriages officiated.

“We wanted to marry on this historic day,” said Brandon Walker-Hodge, who held 5-week-old daughter Karaleigh Ruth as he exchanged vows with Josh Walker-Hodge. “And really it's all about her at this point and everything that comes with the legality of marriage.”

Gay Marriage

Financial adviser Suze Orman attended a mass courthouse wedding in Palm Beach County to support her friends who were getting married. Orman married Kathy Travis in South Africa 10 years ago. She said she is delighted that same-sex couples are finally being recognized by law in Florida.

“This is an investment in validity,” Orman said.

Photo Credits: Daily Mail

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