A sense of inevitability permeated the stately old courtroom. And something more. Call it euphoric anticipation.
Smiling gay couples, plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking the right to marry, posed for photograph after photograph as they awaited Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel’s decision.
It wasn’t a long wait.
The hearing lasted less than five minutes. No opponent spoke against Zabel lifting the stay she had issued in July after ruling that Florida’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.
Not even the disembodied voice from the state attorney general's office, connected to the hearing by telephone, bothered to object.
“In the big picture, does it really matter whether or not I lift the stay or leave it until tomorrow?” Zabel asked. Then she answered her own question. “I’m lifting the stay.”
Cheers erupted. Hugs. Tears. More photographs. Two hours later, Zabel presided over Florida’s first legal same-sex marriages.
It was a historic event, though only by the measure of a few hours. After midnight, a similar ruling by a federal judge in Tallahassee would put an end to the gay marriage ban statewide. Hundreds of gay marriages were planned across Florida. But on Monday, there was only Miami-Dade County.
For such a monumental decision, the effect on society at large will be ethereal. The clamor against gay marriage will fade to indifference. Because the fallacious and illogical argument against gay marriage — that it somehow threatens the sanctity of “traditional” marriage — hasn't held up in any of the 35 other states that have legalized same-sex unions.
Well, Florida became the 36th state on Monday. Gay couples wed in Miami-Dade County and straight couples will awaken Tuesday and find their own marriages unaffected by the ceremony in Zabel’s courtroom.
The Florida Catholic Bishops issued a disapproving statement Monday warning that “redefining civil ‘marriage’ to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society.” But the problem facing the bishops is that their dire warnings were juxtaposed against the images of the gay couples in the courtroom professing their love and crying with happiness.
Their tears seemed testament enough against the bishops’ argument that gay marriage represented nothing more than the “affective gratification of consenting adults.”
The Liberty Counsel, a misnomer of a legal outfit operating out of the Orlando area, threatened to file legal complaints to stop county clerks from issuing marriage licenses. Liberty Counsel’s legal dilemma has been finding an actual victim, someone adversely affected, who would have the necessary standing in a lawsuit.
Legalizing same sex marriage may injure someone’s homophobic sensitivities, but as Judge Zabel noted in her ruling in July, the gay marriage ban “serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions.”
The truth behind her exquisite reasoning led to those historic marriages on Monday. Such a monumental day. Such a basic human right.