This island doesn’t need much encouragement to throw a party. So even though it was a Monday night after the island’s busiest week, a crowd of 500 people showed up at midnight at the historic Monroe County Courthouse to see the first legal wedding between two men in the Keys.
It was a typically diverse Key West crowd of young and old, straight and gay, wealthy and working class. Among the crowd cheering on the two grooms were real estate agents and bartenders, insurance salesmen and attorneys, retirees and ministers.
While the younger crowd kept the party going afterward at a Duval Street club, the wedding itself had special resonance for many older residents.
Julia Davis and Edie Hambright had front row seats for the ceremony. They brought their own lawn chairs and set them up in front of the courthouse steps.
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The couple has been together for 21 years and were legally married in New York. They came to the ceremony to celebrate the union of Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, and to celebrate their own marriage gaining legal recognition in Florida.
“She turns 78 in July and I turn 65 in June. We just didn’t think we’d see it in our lifetime,” said Hambright. “Now we have the same benefits — retirement, health benefits, death benefits. Only a state can give you that kind of stuff. We can’t be denied that.”
Peter Arnow was taking photographs at the ceremony but also celebrating the occasion. He and his husband were married two years ago in New York, after being together 17 years.
“It’s made a tremendous difference,” he said. “I thought it wasn’t necessary, that love is in the heart, etc. etc. And it is. But when I look over at him, he’s no longer my partner. He’s my husband.”
Huntsman and Jones were plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monroe County, but the Monroe Clerk of Court’s office did not offer much of a defense against the state’s constitutional ban on the marriage of same-sex couples. Instead, the clerk’s office joined the plaintiffs in an emergency motion Friday asking Monroe Circuit Judge Luis Garcia to lift the stay on his order from last summer.
In July, Garcia was the first judge in Florida who ruled the ban unconstitutional. Huntsman and Jones’ case was pending before the Third District Court of Appeal. But after the ruling in federal court, marriages were cleared to proceed across the state. On Monday, Garcia lifted the stay effective 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
Key West has a history as one of the nation’s gay-friendliest cities. The island elected an openly gay mayor in 1983 and government agencies have long provided benefits to same-sex domestic partners. In 2003, a rainbow flag more than a mile long was unfurled down Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
Still, Tuesday morning’s ceremony marked a milestone that hundreds wanted to see for themselves. Alice Senturia has lived in Key West for 10 years. She came to the ceremony “to support all of my friends so they can do what they want and love who they love and have equal rights with everyone else,” she said. “After all the work, it was wonderful they have people come out in the middle of the night and stand up for love.”
One of her friends she was there to support was Tom Luna, a longtime Key Wester who tends bar at Aqua, the same bar as Huntsman.
“I’m 60. So I never thought I would see this day in my lifetime, ever. I mean, growing up in the ’60s and ’70s — I grew up in Alabama and Georgia, and if they thought you were gay and beat you up it was fine, nobody cared. So to come from there to here is amazing,” Luna said.
“My boyfriend asked me on our 20th anniversary, ‘If marriage was legal, would you marry me?’ and I went, ‘I don’t know, I don’t want to rush into anything,’” Luna said. “But that was amazing and of course I said yes. And he died a few years ago so he never got to see this but it would have been great. So it’s bittersweet and wonderful and brilliant.”