LGBTQ South Florida

First full day of same-sex marriages in Florida draws emotional couples

Charles Windham and Edgard Perez, who got married Tuesday, posed at the Miami-Dade County clerk’s office.
Charles Windham and Edgard Perez, who got married Tuesday, posed at the Miami-Dade County clerk’s office. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The festive courthouse weddings for same-sex couples began in earnest Tuesday when their marriages became legal across Florida, drawing crowds shortly after midnight and sustained interest throughout the day from gays and lesbians eager to be among the first in the state to wed.

Miami-Dade County got an early start to same-sex marriages Monday afternoon, but other South Florida counties with large gay populations celebrated couples’ unions Tuesday, with all the pomp that could be mustered in cramped bureaucratic spaces. Clerks festooned their bare offices with dainty arches and accepted donated cakes and coffee to welcome jittery brides and grooms.

For some, the occasion was a planned affair involving friends, family and natty wedding attire. Others went to apply for a marriage license dressed in shorts and jeans, now that they could.

“We had been together so long, we hadn’t put a lot of importance in it,” Cory Morton of Oakland Park said of getting married. “It seemed so far-fetched.”

Yet there he was with his partner, Michael Sampson, filling out the paperwork at the Broward County courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday morning. Their 16th anniversary of meeting each other is this week.

“I found myself getting a little nervous on the way here,” Morton said.

“I’m having a hard time holding it together,” added an emotional Sampson.

Gays and lesbians who had in some cases put off their nuptials for years said they expected lines outside courthouse doors. They found other giddy couples, but no long waits, at least in South Florida.

By the end of the day, Miami-Dade County, which did not open its marriage-license bureau overnight, had issued 101 licenses and officiated 22 ceremonies since Monday. Broward County, which married 100 couples in the wee hours Tuesday, issued 63 more licenses and performed 20 more ceremonies by 4 p.m. Monroe County issued 20 licenses total, despite preparing for 100 couples to show up at midnight.

Many gays and lesbians in the Florida Keys have already married in other states, said Ron Saunders, general counsel for the Monroe clerk’s office. And there may be couples who want to marry but were uninterested in doing so right away. A premarital course and application fee are required.

Still, some couples feared a logjam and arrived before clerks’ offices opened. Among them were Edgard Perez and Charles Windham, who went to the Miami-Dade clerk’s office at 140 W. Flagler St. at 7:30 a.m. — clad in matching outfits of navy guayaberas with roses pinned to their chests, gray slacks and navy caps.

They said they have been together for 11 years and were previously married in Vancouver in 2006, but they wanted to be officially married in the United States.

Windham said being able to legally wed affects everything from financial matters such as Social Security benefits to the emotional and social aspects of the institution of marriage.

“There is something powerful that I have the same documents as everyone else. It’s not a different class carved out,” Windham said.

“There is some sense of security about it,” said Perez.

After picking up their license at the clerk’s window, the two men followed the clerk into a separate room set up for the ceremony. Eying a frilly wedding arch adorning the otherwise bare room, Perez said: “It’s a little cheesy.”

“Well, you wanted to get up early the first day and get married!” Windham replied.

The men exchanged vows and placed their gold wedding bands on each other.

“I now pronounce you joined in matrimony,” said Alvaro Franco, the clerk performing the ceremony.

Couples obtained licenses across the state, with some in Tampa waiting in a line next to two protesters, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Several North Florida clerks married gays and lesbians who traveled from places in the Deep South such as Alabama and Georgia that still prohibit same-sex unions, according to the Associated Press.

The marriages drew the attention of the White House, where press secretary Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was “pleased to see that Florida is taking a step in the direction of freedom and liberty.”

In Tallahassee, same-sex newlyweds celebrated blocks away from the Florida Capitol, where hundreds were preparing for Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s second inauguration. In his speech, the governor made no reference to gay marriage, which his administration fought in court.

At her own inaugural ceremony, Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has filed an appeal in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to uphold Florida’s same-sex marriage ban, said it’s up to her solicitor general, Allen Winsor, whether to continue the case.

“We’re still hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case,” she said. “All we wanted all along is uniformity.”

Equality Florida, an LGBT advocacy group, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights wrote to Bondi late Monday asking her to direct state agencies to recognize same-sex married couples. The two organizations were among the ones to successfully sue to overturn the state’s gay-marriage ban.

Near the inauguration festivities, couples began arriving at the Leon County clerk’s office at 8 a.m. By the end of the day, clerks had issued 47 licenses and performed two ceremonies.

Marcy and Rebecca MacDonell came with their parents and their pastor, the Rev. Elder M. Diane Fisher of Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church in Tallahassee, so that they could have their marriage ceremony that same morning.

They had wanted to get married on the east steps of the Old Capitol, Rebecca MacDonell said. But since the iconic location was being readied for Scott’s inauguration, they were married on the west steps.

They returned their signed license to the clerk just after 9 a.m., making them the first same-sex couple to be married in Leon County.

“It’s surreal,” said Rebecca MacDonell, 45, who carried a small bouquet of pink and ivory roses.

But Marcy MacDonell, 53, said she had long expected their wedding day would come. “The Bible says, ‘You have not because you ask not,’” she said. “Well, I was asking.”

Fisher said she was honored to perform the couple’s ceremony.

“We’ve got a number of parishioners who have already spoken to me about setting up a time to get married,” she said. “People have been waiting so long.”

McClatchy White House correspondent Lesley Clark contributed to this report from Washington, Miami Herald reporter Steve Rothaus contributed from Miami, Herald/Times reporter Michael Van Sickler contributed from Tallahassee, and Herald correspondent Nancy Klingener contributed from Key West.

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