Key West bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones stopped by Island House Gay Hotel and Resort to talk about how their lives have changed since April when they became one of the first couples to step up to the plate and take a swing at Florida’s unjust marriage ban.
Two hours after our interview came the wonderful announcement that the United States Supreme Court had denied Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s petition to stay a lower court ruling of July 17 in favor of marriage equality in Florida. Island House, Aqua Nightclub and 801 Bourbon Bar (the two bars where the men are employed) erupted in celebration with the sudden realization that Huntsman and Jones are now sliding into home plate. On January 6th they will receive their marriage license from the same clerk who denied it in April and may become the first same-sex couple to marry in Monroe County.
Huntsman says, “Amy Heavilin is the clerk who denied us the license, but she also thanked us for bringing the issue to the point of decision. She is actually on our side and her office is already preparing the adjustments to the language on the license and the application. She will keep the office open past midnight on January 5, so at 12:01 a.m. we can be first in line.” (SFGN interviewed Monroe County’s general counsel who said no definitive decision has been made yet in regards to the county issuing marriage licenses on January 6.)
Florida has a mandatory three-day wait between obtaining a marriage license and becoming married. This may be waived if the couple takes an approved pre-marital course. Huntsman says, “We took the course with Steve Torrence, pastor of the MCC church in Key West, and he is going to be our officiant. We got the certificate needed for the waiver. We keep it with us at all times.” They had indeed brought it with them to Island House and displayed it proudly.
Jones says, “We’re just two blue collar working guys who wanted our right to marry and to have the protections of legal marriage. It won’t change the way we live, but it will help us if something bad were to happen to us.” The men met on June 10, 2003, during Key West Gay Pride. Huntsman, 44, is a year older than Jones. Both men enjoy the support and admiration of their families. They were grand marshals of this year’s annual Key West Fantasy Fest parade, borne atop a thirty-foot wedding cake float.
Huntsman says, “We began to toy with the idea of demanding a marriage license after the success of the gay adoption rights contest in Florida. We couldn’t understand why in Key West of all places marriage equality was not being fought for. We are not professional activists but we have the support of close friends and the great lady lawyers of the local firm, Restivo, Reilly & Vigil-Fariñas. It took a few months to draft our approach but then we just jumped into it. We were never approached by any gay advocacy groups at the time, and we felt a little bit shunned by some people who had their own timelines and strategies.” Both men are quick to add that they currently appreciate the support of Equality Florida and welcomed its request to become part of their case.
It is currently unclear as to whether marriage equality will be legal throughout all of Florida on January 6, or only in the successfully petitioning counties. Huntsman says, “We are hoping that everything is worked out by then. Even our attorney, Bernadette Restivo, says that the process is like eating spaghetti with a knife.”
Although the men plan to become legally married on January 6, they are also planning a spiritual ceremony to be held (on the anniversary of the July 17 ruling) at the Hemingway House in Key West with a reception at the garden bar of Bourbon Street Pub where they first set eyes on each other.