Just after midnight at the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach, Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock married more than five dozen couples in a group ceremony that took place in front of the “Freedom Shrine.”
The jubilant crowd went wild when Clerk Bock said the words, “by the power invested in me by the Great State of Florida, I now pronounce you married.”
Cameron Keating Event Design decorated the room for the occasion while openly gay Lake Worth City Commissioner Andy Amoroso provided wedding cakes. Local LGBT rights activist Debbie Frazier and her fiancée Diedre Newton, provided other refreshments and helped Bock plan logistics for the night’s events. Sarah Helen Land sang “Defying Gravity” from the Broadway musical “Wicked,” followed by a duet with Jeremiah Cummings of the award winning song, “The Prayer.”
Financial guru Suze Orman attended the festivities with her wife, Kathy Travis,. “We’re here to support our friends,” Orman said. “They’ve been married 25 years.”
Orman and Travis were married in South Africa in 2010 but like so many others who were married elsewhere, Florida refused to recognize their marriage.
“But that ends, tonight,” Orman said. “Isn’t it wonderful? This has to be one of the best days in Florida’s history.”
In order to avoid controversy Clerk Bock made sure the event did not cost taxpayers any money.
Employees of the clerk’s office instead volunteered for the midnight ceremonies.
“We didn’t want the tax payers to foot the bill for this program,” Bock said. “As you’ll see, we have a lot of dedicated people who were willing to give of their own time to support this important issue.”
Other counties in Florida, at least 14 so far, have decided to stop performing marriage ceremonies, including straight marriages, with some clerks noting their employees would be “uncomfortable” performing a same-sex marriage.
That wasn’t the case in Palm Beach, Broward or Monroe County where offices opened up at midnight to celebrate the occasion. A judge in Miami-Dade ruled Monday they county could begin issuing marriage licenses immediately and did so starting at 2 p.m.
Broward County Clerk of the Courts Howard C. Forman said the words thousands of Floridian same-sex couples had been waiting a lifetime to hear.
“With this ring and in love and truth, I marry you,” Forman said during a group wedding ceremony in the early hours of Tuesday’s first day of same-sex marriage in Florida. Couples joyfully recited Forman’s words to each other at the Broward County Courthouse where same-sex marriage in the State of Florida began, officially, at the stroke of midnight.
“We’re seeing the fruition of all of our hard work,” said Robin L. Bodiford, a longtime gay rights attorney and activist from Fort Lauderdale. As she celebrated the occasion with her new wife, Sandra Picardi, Bodiford reflected on the fight for marriage equality.
“It seems like a no-brainer now that we have equal rights, but it was a long and hard fight,” Bodiford said. “We had to educate the judges and provide examples of discrimination during a time when there was no Internet.”
Friends and family members joined the newlyweds on the third floor of the courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Elected officials and judges made appearances as well, including Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who congratulated the couples on their pursuit of happiness.
“It feels great. We are now no longer second rate citizens,” said Oren Hertz, a university professor who married his partner of seven years, Jordan Deguise, a realtor.
The dawn of same-sex marriage in Fort Lauderdale drew many different types of loving couples — old and young, black, white, yellow and brown, men and women. The room, one onlooker commented, resembled the rainbow flag that is associated with the LGBT rights movement.
“This is a monumental event in history,” Beverly Linn said. “I was at Woodstock and this ranks the same. This is something you can always look back on and say, ‘I was there.’”
Linn married Barbara Kelly, a retired nurse who she just recently met. Kelly is legally blind, a fact that made their new romance even better.
“She fell in love with me for who I am and not what I look like,” Linn said.
Many couples waited patiently for their turn to receive a marriage license and take part in a wedding ceremony. The fee for a marriage license is $93.50 with that price being reduced to $61 after completion of a pre-marital course. The fee for a wedding ceremony is $30.
“We have a lot to handle at once, but we’re getting through it,” said Forman, who added his office was doing an accurate and thorough job of processing the license applications.
“We’ve waited a long time for this to come to Florida,” said Brian McCabe, a construction projects manager, originally from New Jersey, who married his partner Robert Chaw of 15 years.
As the music from the 1970s hit song “Love Train” played in the background, Chaw offered a tongue and cheek comment to the arrival of marriage equality.
“Now we get to be miserable just like every other married person.”
Meanwhile Miami-Dade became the first county in Florida to issue same-sex marriage licenses when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge, Sarah Zabel, lifted her stay Monday morning clearing the way for same-marriages to take place in the afternoon.
Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello became one of the first two couples to receive their licenses in Florida.
“When the judge vacated her stay, the court room went insane,” Pareto said. “We were moved to tears. I couldn’t stop crying for awhile.”
After getting their licenses from the clerk’s office they walked back across the street where judge Zabel married them.
“It was quite emotional,” she said.
Pareto and Arguello were two of the plaintiff’s in a Miami-Dade same-sex marriage lawsuit.
In Monroe County, home of gay-centric Key West, William Lee Jones and Aaron Huntsman, became the first couple married in that county on the steps of the courthouse in a midnight ceremony officiated by Rev. Steve Torrence.
Jones and Huntsman were two of the plaintiff’s in a Monroe County same-sex marriage lawsuit.
Judges in both the Miami-Dade and Monroe lawsuits previously ruled the ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
Additional reporting from Jason Parsley, and Donald Cavanaugh.