A year ago Monday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel legally married two same-sex South Florida couples, bringing an official end to the state’s constitutional gay marriage ban.
Five months before on July 25, Zabel declared Florida’s 2008 marriage ban unconstitutional, staying her decision until a state appeals court could rule. Zabel’s stay became moot, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in a similar federal case that would legalize same-sex marriage in Florida effective Jan. 6, 2015.
Zabel lifted her stay the day before, about 11 a.m. on Jan. 5, allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry in Miami-Dade County, nearly 13 hours before the rest of Florida.
The judge immediately performed marriages for two of the plaintiff couples: Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove and Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood.
On Jan. 6, the Miami Herald’s front page had a five column headline, “A Historic Day,’ above a sweeping photograph of the victorious plaintiffs and their lawyers on the steps at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year,” Pareto said Monday. “2015 was insane, positively, awesomely, insane for us.”
No one else knew when the women married Jan. 5 that Arguello was pregnant with twins. “She was feeling quite queasy that day,” Pareto said.
Twins Matteo and Lucia were born Aug. 6. The women also have a 3-year-old son, Enzo.
Pareto said she that when she and Arguello wed, “we had the entire LGBT community behind us.”
“It was such an emotional day — 30 years of trying to move forward from those awful Anita Bryant days,” Pareto said. “I had all of that on my mind when the marriage took place.”
After midnight on Jan. 6, mass weddings were performed for same-sex couples throughout Key West and Fort Lauderdale.
“I’m reminded how different the landscape was in 2013 when we launched the campaign to win marriage in Florida,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, one of the plaintiffs in the Miami-Dade lawsuit. “I look at these couples and say they stepped up at a moment when not even our good friends at Freedom to Marry saw our state as winnable. Our friends at Freedom to Marry didn’t have Florida listed among the long-range targets. It’s a testament to them that they partnered with us. They were extraordinary collaborators.”
One week before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, ordering the federal government to recognize her 2007 marriage in Canada to Thea Spyer, Equality Florida launched a ‘Get Engaged’ campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Florida.
“I remember the hunger and excitement in our community when we put out a call for potential plaintiffs,” Smith said. “We had 1,000 people respond within 24 hours. It was a massive grassroots education effort that changed the way the marriage issue was covered throughout the state.”
Pareto, Arguello and the Delmays were among those who volunteered to be plaintiffs in the Miami-Dade lawsuit.
Within five weeks during the summer of 2014, five judges including Zabel, Monroe Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia and U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee, ruled Florida’s 2008 gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality throughout the nation.
Said Smith: “I believe that the smooth transition of a southern state, the third-most populous state in the union and a political bellwether state was an important part of the context in which the Supreme Court made its decision.”