LGBTQ South Florida

Legal love: How three same-sex couples in South Florida tied the knot

Melanie, left, and Vanessa Alenier embrace on the steps of the Miami-Dade courthouse after Judge Sarah Zabel lift her stay on same-sex marriage and officiated civil same-sex marriages.
Melanie, left, and Vanessa Alenier embrace on the steps of the Miami-Dade courthouse after Judge Sarah Zabel lift her stay on same-sex marriage and officiated civil same-sex marriages. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

They have all been in love for a long, long time.

Eight years. Twelve years. Fifteen years.

And all they wanted was for the law to let them do what ordinary couples do: meet, fall in love, marry.

On Monday, they finally got their wish — but in an extraordinary way. It took a ruling by Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel to open the door to gay marriages in Miami-Dade. And within two hours, couples lined up in the crowded confines of Room 1503 of the marriage license bureau to apply for licenses. Two gay couples wed Monday afternoon, the first of several who will say “I do” in South Florida this week.

“This is just wonderful,” said Aymarah Robles, 60, who along with partner, Deborah Shure, 66, obtained a marriage license Monday afternoon. “This is a huge day for all of us.”

If not for Florida’s same-sex marital ban, their romances might not have been told, might not have become one of the chapters of Florida’s historic march to become the 36th state (plus Washington, D.C.) to allow gay marriage. Here are some of their stories:

On Tuesday around sunset, Robles and Shure, both pulmonologists, plan to wed in a quiet, small ceremony by the water. They will be surrounded by friends and family — including Robles’ 89-year-old mother who is walking them both down the aisle — and the rings will be carried by their Maltese mix dog, Tinah.

The sounds of Bette Midler will fill the air. They will eat a vanilla rum-flavored wedding cake decorated in mint green with white flowers. And perhaps most symbolic of all, the cake will be crowned with a same-sex female cake topper that arrived in the mail on Monday. It is a wedding that has been years in the making.

“Our love is unchanged whether we got married or not, but we wanted the protections that comes with marriage,” said Shure. “And this is not over. The fight is not over until anywhere we go, our marriage is legal.”

Robles and Shure met 25 years ago at a professional medical conference in San Diego.

“I just knew she was the one. I liked her honesty and her goodness,” said Robles. “We spent a lot of time talking about medicine.” And then more.

Robles and Shure moved to Miami after a stop in Houston, building a full life with a circle of friends and a home in the Shenandoah Park neighborhood. Still, they could not marry.

When the couple received their license Monday afternoon, they turned to the cameras. Robles said simply: “The mundane becomes magical.”

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They never let each others’ hands go, never stopped smiling. Newlyweds, Todd and Jeff Delmay were one of the first two same-sex couples married in Miami-Dade Monday in a dual courthouse ceremony by Judge Zabel.

“The word that comes to mind is elated,” said Jeff Delmay, trying to capture what it means to marry in Florida, to be part of a landmark ruling.

The couple met a dozen years ago at a party at the Miami hotel where Jeff worked. Todd was a guest.

“There was a connection right away,” said Jeff Delmay, 36.

For years, the Hollywood couple hoped they could get married, but didn’t want to leave South Florida to do so.

“This is where we live,” said Todd Delmay, 43, who is originally from Michigan.

When the judge lifted the stay, the couple knew Monday would become their special day. They walked hand-in-hand to the clerk’s office to get their license, pulling No. 65 — among the first in line — and waited.

With license in hand, they marched back to the courthouse where the couple, along with Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello of Coconut Grove, were married by Zabel. Both couples were part of the local lawsuit aimed to overturning Florida’s ban of gay marriage.

“No. 65 is now our lucky number,” Jeff Delmay said.

While the couple is officially married, they still plan on having a reception next year.

“We just want to celebrate our love with our friends and family,” Todd Delmay said. “This has been a long road for everyone.”

Six months after they met, the Delmays purchased silver wedding bands. They wore them on their right hands until their union was legal. On Monday, they switched the rings to their left hands.

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They ran into each other at a Wilton Manors restaurant/lounge nearly a decade ago. Melanie was wowed by Vanessa’s smile. For Vanessa, there was simply something about Melanie.

But it was at a waterside lunch days later, a meal stretching well after the salads were gone, that the two women knew they wanted more. What Melanie and Vanessa Alenier (Melanie changed her name legally to Vanessa’s in 2010) could not have imagined is that they would challenge Florida’s laws twice — first as a couple attempting to adopt a baby boy and then when they wanted to marry.

The Aleniers won both battles. Now the Hollywood couple, plaintiffs in the lawsuit, hope to be married soon by Zadel. Their 5-year-old son, Ethan, will be there.

On that first date, the women spent the afternoon at a Hollywood restaurant. Some of the details are lost with the years, but each remembered knowing they wanted a future together: “We went to lunch and shortly thereafter started dating and, cliche, we fell in love quickly,” says Melanie Alenier.

Her words echo Vanessa’s: “After having lunch together, I just realized how easy it was to talk to her and how great she was,” she said. “I couldn’t help but fall pretty quickly in love with her.”

Three years later, the Aleniers decided to start a family. They were planning to use artificial insemination when the couple received a call that Ethan — the son of a relative of Vanessa’s — needed a home. Vanessa and Melanie took him in, their new role as parents morphing into something more: a stand against what was then Florida’s 33-year ban on gay adoption.

“I felt so judged because of who I love,” said Vanessa Alenier.

A Miami-Dade judge quietly approved the adoption when Ethan was a year old. He loves football, the Georgia Bulldogs, specifically, and calls Melanie and Vanessa “mommy” and “mama,” respectively.

A year ago this month, the Aleniers, along with the five other couples, took on the gay marriage ban. They had been thinking about getting married outside of Florida.

“I remember thinking that this really stinks that we would have to go somewhere else,” said Melanie Alenier, 36, before Monday’s ruling. “We have been in Florida our entire lives; this is where we would want to get married with our friends and family.”

Now, they can. Now, they will.

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