After dinner and drinks amid a cool evening breeze blowing off Biscayne Bay, Julie Hood reaches over to caress Marilyn Gran’s face.
Gran smiles wide, looking over at her longtime partner and new wife. When she talks about their 13-year romance and how they finally have the right to legally marry in Florida, she says the everyday hasn’t changed but the bigger picture is still sinking in.
“It doesn’t really feel any different,” she says. “It still feels somewhat surreal. I guess when we finally solidify all our legalities, then I’ll know it’s real.”
Gran, who works for the Florida Virtual School in hospitality management education, is generally quieter than Hood, a high school physics teacher who loves to talk. Hood puts her left hand on Gran’s, and their diamond-studded gold bands twinkle in the light as Hood outlines the simple beauty in their very normal life together.
“We do laundry. We go to the grocery store. Terminix is coming to inspect the house on the weekend,” she says with a laugh.
But she recognizes and cherishes the moment. She loves that she can celebrate this Valentine’s Day with her wife.
It’s a moment she and Gran weren’t sure would come.
“I never thought I’d see this day,” Hood says. “Never in my lifetime.”
Love and support
The big day arrived Jan. 5, when same-sex couples could legally wed in Miami-Dade County. The rest of the state followed the next day. In the following days, holding a conversation with Hood while walking through the halls of the Maritime and Science Technology Academy could be difficult, given the joyful interruptions.
“Wooooo! Congratulations, Dr. Hood!” hollered students that sat in her classroom and even those who didn’t. MAST has a tight-knit community with about 900 students, so news traveled fast that Hood was going to get hitched.
“Thanks, guys!” she said.
Hood has been teaching since 1997 at MAST, where she has forged a reputation for being a loving mentor and friend to many students. In particular, she’s an ally to LGBT students during their formative years.
In her first year, she spearheaded MAST’s gay-straight alliance, a club that provides a safe environment for students to meet and discuss issues of sexuality and gender identity. It was the second such club at a public high school in Miami-Dade, and it has enjoyed steady membership through the years.
“For some years, we were the biggest club on campus,” she said.
She is still moderator of the alliance, which students cherish for its culture of acceptance and support.
“This school’s gotten very, very accepting,” said 17-year-old Kaitlin Schwartz, who is president of the club. “We’re all chill.”
Nicholas Romanach, 17, said he, like so many, was thrilled when he heard the news. Hood is a pillar of support for them as a teacher and friend who is always cheering them on.
Now, as a new page turns in Hood’s love story, it’s their turn.
“I was truly happy for her,” he said. “She deserves to enjoy a ceremony to show that she loves her partner no matter what circumstance. She’s one of the most loved teachers in this school, I can tell you that.”
Hood and Gran met online in 2001, when Gran reached out after noticing they were born one day apart in January 1960.
“I had to check her out,” Gran said, grinning. Her birthday is Jan. 10.
Then both 41, they met for dinner at Scotty’s Landing in Coconut Grove, and it went well. Hood, a California native who arrived in South Florida in the early 1990s to teach at the University of Miami, and Gran, raised in Miami Beach, hit it off quickly.
Before long, they were dating. A few years later, they moved in together. And life is great. They go on Hood’s school trips together. They shop for household appliances together. They take care of their pets together — a Boxer mix named Doogie, and a revolving door of rescue cats.
Their relationship began at a point in their lives when they were completely comfortable with themselves, but they’ve just been waiting for the powers that be to be comfortable with them.
“We didn’t want to do it somewhere else,” Hood said. “To come back here and not have it recognized would be kind of pointless.”
The legalities that Gran mentions are the details that heterosexual couples take for granted, like being each other’s next of kin and enjoying tax benefits.
“We own a home, and we want to put each other on the title,” Hood said. “It’d be financially burdensome if we weren’t married.”
So when Hood learned on Dec. 19 that same-sex marriage could become a reality in Florida, she started to think how soon she and Gran could get married. How quickly could they put this together?
Enter Dana Yancoskie, a math teacher at MAST known for running a strict class that challenges students. Hood and Yancoskie were in the teachers’ lounge one day when Yancoskie struck up the conversation.
Whatever rigidity students may recognize from the classroom broke away as Yancoskie warmly offered her services to the brides-to-be.
“You know, I’m licensed,” said Yancoskie, a Notary Public. “I can actually marry you.”
Hood was beaming. She and Gran talked that night, and by Saturday, they were looking at rings.
“We went to Jared,” Hood said.
On Jan. 9 — Hood’s birthday — they got their marriage license at the courthouse in Coral Gables, where they got a warm greeting from the clerk.
“She gave us a wink when we applied,” Gran said.
Hood’s friend and coworker, MAST art teacher Craig Kirk, captains a boat for Shake-A-Leg Miami, a not-for-profit that makes boating accessible to adults and children with physical, developmental and economic challenges.
Hood and Gran made a donation to the organization, and they were locked in to set sail on Jan. 17 with Captain Kirk and about 30 friends and family.
With the wind blowing over the water, as the golden glow of dusk lit their faces, Hood and Gran held hands. Clad in white blouses and dark pants, they held hands as the boat gently rocked.
Their eyes kept meeting, mouths fixed in toothy smiles. And they sneaked a kiss or two in there before the big one.
Yancoskie asked Hood if she would take Gran to be her spouse, to be together with her in matrimony, and to love her and comfort her as long as they both shall live.
“Yes, I’ve been practicing for 13 years,” she said.
Gran said yes, too, and then the rings came out.
“I give you this ring as a pledge of eternal love and commitment, and I promise to love and respect you for at least the next 80 years,” Hood said, drawing laughs.
Gran slipped Julie’s ring on her right hand before they both chuckled.
“Oh!” she said, before then placing the band on Hood’s left hand.
“I will continue to be committed to you as I have been for the last 13 years, and continue to do so for as long as we both shall live,” Gran said.
The couple then had something to say together.
“Let these rings be given as a symbol of our love and commitment to one another,” they said, holding their hands up. “Just as these circles are without end, let our love be eternal.”
Then Yancoskie, with the power vested in her by the state of Florida, made it official.
The wives kissed, the crowd started cheering and ringing small bells. Gran grabbed one before speaking up loudly.
“Ring the bells! Let freedom ring for freedom and equality!”
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