South Florida gay couples marry in twilight ceremonies –

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The clock has struck midnight in Florida, marking a new day for thousands of gay couples who can now be legally wed.

With 12:01 a.m. bringing the end to a state ban on same-sex marriage, the betrothed flocked to South Florida courthouses open overnight.

In the Florida Keys, where only 100 same-sex marriage licenses were available before dawn, several hundred waited outside a Monroe County Courthouse. In Palm Beach, Clerk Sharon Bock stood on a staircase and presided over a 12:30 a.m. group wedding that drew dozens of gay couples. Hundreds gathered in the Broward Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale to file the paperwork for a 3 a.m. mass wedding.

They anxiously waited, like John and Frank of Oakland Park, who soon would share the same last hyphenated last name, Duffy-Sweeney. They said getting married on the first day possible felt “special.”

“The support has just been unbelievable and overwhelming,” said Frank Duffy-Sweeney. “My sister called, she was upset that she wasn’t the first one told…it gives me chills now to think of all the support that we have.”

The event drew Broward County Vice Mayor Martin David Kiar and Sheriff Scott Israel, who was celebrating the wedding of one of his deputies, Detective Davie Currie.

“This is just a giant step forward,” Israel said.

South Florida courthouses — and others across the state — were open late Monday and early Tuesday in order to take advantage of a federal judge’s ruling to lift a legal stay placed on an August decision declaring Florida’s gay-marriage ban discriminatory. That judge, Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee, kept clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses until 12:01 a.m. Jan. 6 to allow for appeals.

But despite attempts by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to overturn Hinkle’s ruling, as well as several others that struck down Florida’s ban, no appeals or extensions were granted. And so for the first time outside of Miami-Dade — where a judge lifted her own stay early Monday afternoon and began conducting ceremonies — gay couples were able to marry the ones they loved.

“This is a long time coming,” said Key West commissioner and former mayor Jimmy Weekley before midnight. “I have been pushing this since 1999.”

Florida’s same-sex marriage ban was approved in 2008 by 62 percent of voters as part of Amendment 2, an initiative organized by the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council. But that ban and others across the country were dealt a blow five years later when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lawn barring the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.

In the 18 months that followed, five cases were fought by gay couples and won in state and federal court. Four were fought in South Florida. The fifth and farthest reaching of those decisions, made by Hinkle, resulted in the ban being lifted at midnight across the state.

Bondi, a Republican who vigorously defended Florida’s ban, sought extensions of Hinkle’s stay from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Both turned her down.

The implications are broad: U.S. Census and other data suggest there are about 48,500 cohabiting same-sex couples in Florida, according to Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA law school in Los Angeles. Same-sex couples are now able to marry in 36 states and Washington D.C. The ruling also means gay marriages performed outside Florida will be recognized in Miami-Dade, although there is still a possibility the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

In the Keys, where Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia was the first in the state to rule Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, the office of Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin, a Republican, opened at 12 a.m. to marry 100 couples. First in line were Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones of Key West, who filed the case that prompted Garcia’s ruling.

Wearing black tuxedos with blue vests and white flower boutonnieres pinned to their lapelles, they arrived at the Monroe County Courthouse about 11 p.m. Monday in rented golf carts, horns blazing before posing for photos. When the couple began their ceremony, hundreds waited outside for them to arrive as a married couple.

Around the same time in Palm Beach County, dozens of couples queued in Delray Beach. The courthouse there began taking license applications around 10:30 p.m. As they waited, couples danced and sang, according to reporters on the scene.

“It’s part of history. We wanted to be part of it,” Julia Borghese, who was third in line with her partner of 10 years, Irma Oliver, told the Palm Beach Post.

In Broward, about 400 people gathered inside a third-floor county courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale before midnight. The room temperature was a bit stuffy and hot, particularly for those dressed in suits, but the atmosphere was happy and festive. The clerk’s office was taking applications, with plans to marry everyone at the same time around 3 a.m.

When couples began to fill out their paperwork, the clerk’s office played “My one and only love” over their speakers.

Stork’s, a bakery in Wilton Manors, provided free coffee and planned to bring a wedding cake to serve.

John and Frank Duffy-Sweeney, together for eight years, wore matching lavender shirts and ties. Their four-year-old adopted son, Zachary, wore a lavender shirt too (but with sneakers).

Both men raised Zachary, but until now, state law didn’t allow John’s name to be added to the birth certificate. As a married couple, John said that will now change. And the couple’s life insurance policy can now be unified in the standard way enjoyed by other married couples.

“All those finances are getting tied together, finally,” John Duffy-Sweeney said.

The two men came with two other couples they know, who also planned to wed.

Elsewhere in Florida, some clerks chose to open as regularly scheduled Tuesday morning, meaning a slightly longer wait for anxious couples. Other clerks in more conservative counties in North Florida and the Tamp Bay area chose to stop conducting marriage ceremonies altogether, though they must still issue marriage licenses.

But in Miami-Dade, Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel did the reverse, and lifted her own stay early Monday afternoon, bringing cheers and tears of joy from the plaintiffs. Two of the six couples who had sued — Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove, and Jeff and Todd Delmay of Hollywood — were the first to be married, by Zabel herself.

The couples exchanged rings surrounded by family, friends and a pack of television crews at downtown Miami’s historic civil courthouse following Zabel’s 11 a.m. ruling.

“In the big picture, does it really matter whether or not I lift the stay or leave it until tomorrow?” Zabel said from the bench. “I’m lifting the stay.”

The rush of applications on same-sex marriage licenses is expected to continue Tuesday, when many clerks around the state will open around 8 a.m. to begin issuing same-sex licenses for the first time. South Florida courthouses will also re-open in the morning, as regularly scheduled.

Contributor Nancy Klingener and Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.


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