MIAMI: Lesbian and gay couples were wed in Miami on Monday by the same judge who approved their marriage licenses, hours before Florida’s coming-out party as the nation’s 36th state where same-sex marriages are now 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 cheers in the courthouse reflect how much of the nation’s third-largest state has changed since the 1970s, when Anita Bryant, the former beauty pageant queen and orange juice spokeswoman, started her national campaign against gay rights in Miami.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Cathy Pareto, who wed Karla Arguello, her partner of 15 years. “Finally Florida recognizes us as a couple. It’s just — I don’t know, sweet justice.”

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

Tellingly, however, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then the U.S. Supreme Court refused Bondi’s request to extend an order blocking same-sex marriages beyond Monday, essentially giving the green light to the weddings taking place now. And Bondi’s office didn’t even appear at Monday’s hearing, telling the judge by phone that the state wouldn’t oppose issuing licenses during the appeals process.

“[Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel] has ruled, and we wish these couples the best,” Bondi’s press secretary, Whitney Ray, said in an email.

Bush, who opposed gay marriage while governor, also 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.”

Gay rights advocates called it a pivotal moment for the entire country. On Friday, Supreme Court justices will decide in private whether to rule on the merits of gay marriage during their current term.

“Florida is a bellwether state, and I can think of no more encouraging sign as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide whether to resolve this issue for the entire country at its next conference on January 9,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

But signs of opposition were evident farther north, where more conservative Floridians live.

In Jacksonville, Duval County Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell shut down the courthouse chapel, saying no more marriage ceremonies — gay or straight — would be allowed there. At least two other counties in northeast Florida did the same.


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