Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones waited for more than a decade for this moment.
The two Duval Street bartenders stood on the steps of the historic Monroe County Courthouse at 12:18 a.m. Tuesday and, as a crowd of hundreds watched, exchanged rings and then vows during a ceremony led by a police chaplain. And then, while onlookers pelted their black tuxedos with rice, they shared a lingering, tender kiss, their first as spouses.
In a historic and emotional night for South Florida — one many thought might never come — the newlyweds from Key West were the first gay couple to marry in Monroe County and among the first in the entire state after Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted at midnight. The same courthouses would be open again after dawn, but for many gay and lesbian couples, waiting any longer wasn’t an option.
“I’m glad it’s finally legal,” said a teary-eyed Jones, who along with Huntsman successfully sued Monroe County’s clerk of court to demand they be allowed to marry.
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Their lawsuit and several others fought and won around the state led to the unprecedented festivities in the early morning hours of Jan. 6 and the preceding afternoon. In Miami-Dade County, the couple in the state’s first ever gay mariage wed before 2 p.m. Monday during a courthouse ceremony. And some 12 hours later, Huntsman and Jones were married in Key West, and clerks in Palm Beach and Broward counties held mass wedding ceremonies in their courthouses after signing marriage licenses.
Broward Clerk of Courts Howard Forman, a Democrat, officiated the first of two mass ceremonies around 2 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale. Dozens of couples participated and the sound of camera shutters continued nonstop.
“Never forget that love brought you here today,” Forman told them.
A few moments later, Forman asked, “Do you take each other to be your spouse and partner for life?”
There was a chorus of “I do,” along with what sounded like the popping of champagne bottles. In this case, it was cider (you can’t bring alcohol in the courthouse).
Then the rings came out.
“Repeat after me,” Forman said. “With this ring, in love and truth, I marry you.”
When Forman finally said “I pronounce you legally married,” the room broke into cheers.
For some involved, the evening was as magical as it was surreal. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel stopped by to wish Detective David Currie and his new spouse, Aaron Woodard, well in their marriage. Currie was dressed in full uniform.
John and Frank of Oakland Park, who soon would share the same last hyphenated last name, Duffy-Sweeney, said getting married on the first day possible felt “special.” They brought their 4-year-old adopted son, Zachary, with them, and all wore matching lavender outfits.
“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.”
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 midnight to marry 100 couples. First in line were Huntsman and Jones.
Wearing black tuxedos with blue vests and white flower boutonnieres pinned to their lapels, they arrived at the courthouse at about 11 p.m. Monday in rented golf carts, horns blazing before posing for photos. When the two began their ceremony, hundreds waited outside for them to arrive as a married couple.
“This is a long time coming,” said Key West commissioner and former mayor Jimmy Weekley, who greeted Huntsman and Jones before midnight. “I have been pushing this since 1999.”
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. Later, the clerk of courts conducted a mass ceremony from a podium mounted on a staircase.
“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 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, and when couples began to fill out their paperwork, “My one and only love” began to play over their speakers.
Stork’s, a bakery in Wilton Manors, provided free coffee and served white wedding cakes.
The Duffy-Sweeneys, together for eight years, wore matching lavender shirts and ties. 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.
Nancy Klingener contributed to this report.