LGBTQ South Florida

Steve Rothaus welcomes new U.S. citizens at swearing-in ceremony celebrating LGBT pride

Steve Rothaus is guest speaker at the June 26, 2015, LGBT Pride Month swearing-in ceremony for new United States citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Kendall.
Steve Rothaus is guest speaker at the June 26, 2015, LGBT Pride Month swearing-in ceremony for new United States citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Kendall. El Nuevo Herald

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Kendall invited me in 2014 to become the nation’s first openly gay speaker at a citizens’ swearing-in ceremony celebrating LGBT Pride Month.

A few months ago, USCIS asked me back to be this year’s LGBT Pride Month guest speaker. The time and date of my speech: 10 a.m., Friday, June 26.

Of course, no one knew that at that exact moment, LGBT history would be made.

As I stood on a stage at 10 a.m. Friday, about to address 140 new U.S. citizens, their friends and families, word broke that the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex couples have the legal right to marry everywhere in the nation.

I hurriedly updated my speech, welcoming the proud group of Americans “just as new history is being made.”

Here’s my complete speech:

Good morning, welcome and congratulations.

This is a historic moment in the United States and an exciting time for us to share.

Exactly one year ago, in this very room, I became the first openly gay speaker to officially welcome new citizens at a naturalization ceremony anywhere in America.

I told the story of a Coral Gables couple, Daniel Zavala and Yohandel Ruiz, who met about four years ago in a South Beach nightclub.

Daniel was visiting South Florida from Mexico. He commuted between both countries during their courtship and they got married in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 2012.

Two days later, Daniel’s tourist visa expired.

Daniel and Yohandel, along with thousands of other gay and lesbian binational couples, faced separation because of DOMA, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing legally married same-sex spouses.

“I should not have to leave the country to be with the person I love,” said Cuban-born Yohandel, an American citizen who grew up in Hialeah. “I should be able to sponsor my husband, Daniel, to stay in the country.”

On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled a portion of DOMA unconstitutional and ordered the federal government to recognize all legally married same-sex couples.

Now, legally married men can sponsor their husbands for green cards and legally married women can sponsor their wives, too. Just like opposite-sex married couples.

A few days after I welcomed people just like yourselves at the 2014 naturalization ceremony, my husband Ric and I visited the White House, guests of President and Mrs. Barack Obama at an official Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender pride celebration.

Ric and I have been partners for three decades, slightly longer than I've been a reporter at the Miami Herald. We got married in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 14, 2014 -- our 29th anniversary together.

He and I wed in New York because at the time Florida law prevented us from marrying here.

Last summer, though, five judges separately declared Florida's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. A federal judge ordered that Florida declare same-sex marriage legal in January.

As of this morning, same-sex couples could marry in 37 of 50 states, plus in Washington, D.C., our nation's capital.

And just minutes ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, declared same-sex couples have the right to marry everywhere in the United States.

For some of you here today, this may sound like a strange concept: two men or two women getting married.

You're not alone. Until recently, many people here felt the same way. But as Americans learn more about LGBT families, people like Daniel and Yohandel, their attitudes often change.

Five years ago, only 49 percent of Americans believed same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry. But this year, according to a CNN / ORC poll, 63 percent agree.

The United States is built on the concept that all people are equal and have equal rights. Same-sex marriage tests that legal concept and so far has passed the test.

So welcome to the United States and congratulations on becoming citizens just as new history is being made.

New citizens - countries of origin

▪ Argentina, 2

▪ Chile, 1

▪ People’s Republic of China, 1

▪ Colombia, 13

▪ Costa Rica, 1

▪ Cuba, 90

▪ Dominican Republic, 1

▪ Ecuador, 2

▪ El Salvador, 1

▪ Haiti, 2

▪ Honduras, 3

▪ Jamaica, 1

▪ Mexico, 3

▪ Nicaragua, 5

▪ Panama, 1

▪ Peru, 2

▪ Spain, 2

▪ Taiwan, 1

▪ Thailand, 1

▪ Trinidad and Tobago, 2

▪ Venezuela, 5