Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: For gay couples, one magnificent moment

Partners for almost 18 years, Elsie and Christina Ruiz, pictured with 4-year-old daughter Meredith, hope to finally marry this year now that same-sex marriages are legal in Florida.
Partners for almost 18 years, Elsie and Christina Ruiz, pictured with 4-year-old daughter Meredith, hope to finally marry this year now that same-sex marriages are legal in Florida. Courtesy of the family

"What is this day with two suns in the sky?

Day unlike other days,

With a great voice giving it to the planet,

Here it is, enamored beings, your day!

–13th century poet Rumi

I love the rush of courthouse weddings — all of them so Florida.

For some of these “enamored beings,” the long-awaited right to marry calls for a limousine ride, formal wear and bubbly. For others, matching tie-dyed or flowered shirts and shorts will do. For members of the Broward Sheriff’s office, the wedding attire is police uniforms.

Mazel tov! Felicidades! Congratulations!

Now that the discordant battle in the courts is over — and Florida has become the 36th state where same-sex marriage is legal — can we talk about love and celebrate all families?

“We’ve been waiting forever to complete this love story, to tell our daughter that we’re married like any other couple,” Christina Ruiz, 43, told me as wedding cheers rang nonstop Monday in Miami-Dade, the first county in the state to perform same-sex marriages.

The moving scenes of happy tears and forever toasts were replicated Tuesday throughout the state, as soon as doors opened at county clerk offices, some in conservative communities not as friendly to gay marriage as South Florida, but now bound by a domino-effect of legal wins in state and federal courts.

Christina, in a new job in car sales, and her partner, Elsie Ruiz, a retail store manager, were busy working through the revelry, but planning with renewed enthusiasm to realize their dream to be married.

They’ve been together for almost 18 years, and have a daughter, 4-year-old Meredith, conceived by Christina through insemination from a sperm bank, and adopted by Elsie, a second parent of equal legal standing.

Elsie calls Christina “the woman of my dreams.’ Christina refers to their relationship as “a love story so passionate.”

They met at club Splash in 1997 when their husbands, bored with monogamy, took them there to meet other people.

“Since then, we’ve been inseparable,” Christina says.

They dated, divorced their (by then angry) husbands, lived together, bought a house, had a child, shared their lives with each other’s families (only once could they not attend an event as a couple, an uncle’s funeral in Tennessee). Christina even took Elsie’s last name as a gesture of unity and commitment after her divorce.

The only thing they couldn’t do: marry.

But nevertheless they walked into the Miami-Dade Courthouse on Oct. 22, 2013 and tried to apply for a marriage license.

“The girl [clerk] just looked at us like she didn’t get the question,” Christina says.

They were sent to another floor to apply for “"domestic partnership” status, which helped them get some benefits like being on the same health insurance policy, but not nearly as many protections and benefits as marriage. It left them feeling that their union was strong at home, but still vulnerable out in the world.

Now they plan to marry either on Feb. 7, the 18th anniversary of the day they met at Splash, or, on the anniversary date of the denial of the right to be married: Oct. 22.

To the couple, marriage not only provides legal benefits and protections but also is an emotional affirmation. It tells the world, Christina says: “We are.”

Similar poignant feelings of belonging, of dignity bestowed, finally, were echoed by newlyweds across the state. But despite the jubilation and the hopeful fact that 70 percent of the U.S. population now lives in states where gay marriage is allowed, not all the perils of a relationship are erased by a marriage certificate. Attorneys were also handling divorces from same-sex marriages in other states on Tuesday, quite the testament to equality.

“Is there more work to do? Yeah,” says Elizabeth Schwartz, one of the attorneys who challenged the gay-marriage ban imposed by voters via a 2008 constitutional amendment. “We have no employment protections federally and statewide. There is the possibility of people getting married today, showing up for work, and losing their job the next day for doing so. Marriage is an amazing achievement, but it’s by far not the end. There are still parents kicking kids out of their homes for being gay, so there’s a high LGBT homeless rate. There’s awful exposure to employment discrimination, seniors are discriminated against and have to go back in the closet when go into retirement and nursing homes, and on and on.”

And despite the pro-marriage rulings, there’s backlash.

In conservative Pasco County, county clerks opted out of performing marriage ceremonies because they felt “uncomfortable.”

Ironically, the first gay couple to be married in Pasco met 29 years ago at a church dance in Tampa.

In the quest to achieve inclusiveness and understanding, it may not be enough to win legal battles. But for one magnificent historic moment, there’s a celebration of the universal power of love going on in Florida.

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