LGBTQ South Florida

Miami Beach renewal of vows ceremony for same-sex couples attracts hundreds

A solemn moment: L-R Eric Hankin and Richard Milstein, Charles Hunziker and Dr. Robert Collier, and Natalie Pantaleon and Magda Noa Pantaleon renew their marriage vows at a ceremony at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Tuesday, January 6, 2015.
A solemn moment: L-R Eric Hankin and Richard Milstein, Charles Hunziker and Dr. Robert Collier, and Natalie Pantaleon and Magda Noa Pantaleon renew their marriage vows at a ceremony at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Tuesday, January 6, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Under flashes of light from cameras and phones, as the warm South Florida winter evening began, hundreds of couples locked eyes in the garden.

Already married in other states that recognize same-sex marriage, the lovebirds gathered Tuesday night at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden to renew their vows on the first day that Florida officially recognized their marriages.

As the couples looked into each others’ eyes, they said: “I give myself to you. I will support and care for you. Enduring all things. Bearing all things. I will hold and cherish you, in times of plenty and in times of want. I will honor and love you, forsaking all others, for as long as we both shall live.”

Tears rolled down cheeks. Lips quivered, and then smiles curled.

“This is my solemn vow.”

About 500 attended the ceremony — gay, lesbian and even some straight couples participated. By 6:30 p.m., the garden was buzzing with people congratulating each other, hugging and kissing as they celebrated a day some said they’d never imagined would come.

“We never thought it would happen in our lifetime,” said Steven Grossman, 60, of Tamarac, who came with his now-husband Richard Lavine, 71.

The pair have been together for about 30 years, after they were introduced through mutual friends. One movie date in Coral Gables, and they’ve been together ever since. In September, they married in Chicago.

“It’s so good to finally have all the same benefits that everyone else has,” Grossman said.

Hyman Ludmer, 68, and husband Brad Stowell, 60, biked 12.5 miles from North Miami to make the ceremony Tuesday. They wore their uniforms for OutRiders, a cycling group for the LGBTQ community and supporters based in the metro Washington, D.C., area (they split time between Fort Lauderdale and northern Virginia).

“We’re just overjoyed,” Ludmer said. The couple married in Canada in 2004.

Chuck Hunziker, 83, and Bob Collier, 80, were plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that spurred the legal battle that led to an end of the statewide ban on same-sex marriage. Together since July 4, 1962 — that’s 52 years— they married in New York last year. They were all smiles Tuesday.

“This is my partner — I mean, my husband!” said Hunziker, as he introduced Collier. “Partner — I got to drop that now.”

After the sun set, the couples crowded a small seating area in the garden. The Miami Gay Men’s Chorus sang “Over the Rainbow,” then Tony Lima, executive director of the local chapter of LGBT rights organization SAVE, addressed the crowd.

“We are making history today. How does that feel?” he said, rousing the crowd into cheers.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine spoke, pledging continued support from the City Commission. Miami Beach’s government has passed ordinances supporting LGBT rights.

“In Miami Beach, when it comes to LGBT rights, there’s no question,” he said. “It’s a yes vote.”

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the audience the right to marry carried a larger significance.

“This is not just about marriage,” he said. “This is about the advancement of human rights.”

Before leading the ceremony with the Rev. Chris Jackson of Unity on the Bay and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Tom Heyn, the Rev. Grey Maggiano of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami said it’s been painful for his congregation to see some of its couples travel to other states to get married.

The Episcopalian Church has had a rite for same-sex marriage since 2012. Maggiano said he is happy he can now perform same-sex marriages for members of his community.

“We’ve known from the beginning that these boundaries we put for ourselves are false,” he said, citing the Bible verse from Galatians, Chapter 23, Verse 28.

The verse reads:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

As remarks from clergy came to a close, Temple Israel’s Heyn congratulated the husbands and husbands and wives and wives.

“Mazel tov!”

Then the lips locked.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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