Miami Judge Weds Gays and Lesbians after Ruling Against Ban

Rick Neale | Religion News Service | Wednesday, January 7, 2015
Miami Judge Weds Gays and Lesbians after Ruling Against Ban

Miami Judge Weds Gays and Lesbians after Ruling Against Ban

As of Tuesday (Jan. 6), same-sex marriage is legal throughout Florida.

But Monday, lesbian and gay couples were married in Miami by the same judge who said she saw no reason they couldn’t immediately get their licenses.

Florida is the 36th U.S. state where same-sex marriages are legal statewide.

The addition of Florida’s 19.9 million people means 70 percent of Americans now live in states where gay marriage is legal.

The courtroom erupted in cheers when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel cleared the way for the licenses issued to Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, and Jeff and Todd Delmay. Then she presided over their weddings in a dual ceremony.

More than 60 percent of voters approved an amendment to Florida’s constitution to ban same-sex marriages in 2008. But judges in Florida, as in many other states, found that such bans violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal treatment and due process.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle struck down the state’s gay marriage ban back in August, but he issued a stay of proceedings that expired Monday.

On New Year’s Day, Hinkle clarified his order, stating that all 67 Florida clerks are obliged to issue licenses as of Tuesday.

Although same-sex marriage is now a reality in Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi is still pursuing appeals at both the federal and state levels. Her position — one shared by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, now considering a run for president — is that marriage should be defined by each state.

Bush, a Catholic who opposed gay marriage while governor, tried to find middle ground Monday, urging people in a statement 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.”

For Jason McCloy, it was important to marry in his home state.

“A lot of our friends were saying, ‘Hey, go to Rhode Island or go to these other places where it’s legal.’ But for us, it’s really important to be legal where we live. This is where our lives are. This is where my career is. This is where we sleep every night,” McCloy said.

“So we purposely did not go out of state to get married. We were going to wait until it came to Florida,” he said.

McCloy and his partner, Pete — who had a commitment ceremony in August 2004 on a Key West beach — planned to pick up a marriage license Tuesday afternoon at the Brevard County Clerk of Courts office in Viera.

“We take it very, very seriously. I have a little bit of the butterflies — after all this time, it’s actually going to be legal. It is kind of overwhelming,” McCloy said.

Brevard clerk of courts employees may open extra customer service lanes for marriage licenses if demand is sufficient, said Tyler Winik, deputy clerk for legal affairs and special projects.

Deputy clerks are available to officiate ceremonies, at the front counter, at nearby outdoor locations or after-hours, Winik said.

“We’re all ecstatic,” said Clayton Richardson, secretary of Space Coast Pride in West Melbourne, Fla. “We are sometimes undergoing hardship trying to raise children without the protections that marriage provides. Or spending decades together and entering old age, and not having the security that marriage provides.”

While the news that same-sex marriages were starting 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 — gay or straight — would be allowed there. At least two other counties in northeast Florida did the same.

The legal rulings reflect how much Florida 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.

The state’s first weddings were set to happen in the same county where, 38 years ago, Bryant successfully campaigned to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays. The county commission reinstated those protections two decades later.

Bryant’s career suffered — as did Florida orange juice sales — and she blamed the “ultraliberal press.”

“They’re saying I’m a bigot and have hatred for the homosexuals,” she told The Associated Press in 1977. “I don’t hate homosexuals. I love them enough to tell them the truth: that God puts them in the category with other sinners.”

The state’s Catholic bishops issued a joint statement Monday expressing disappointment, saying implications of gay marriages aren’t fully understood and will upend millennia of tradition.

“How society understands marriage has great public significance,” they said. “Because of this, redefining civil ‘marriage’ to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society. Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults.”

(Rick Neale writes for USA Today and for Florida Today. Contributing: The Associated Press.)

Courtesy: Religion News Service

Photo Courtesy: File photo

Publication date: January 7, 2015