Miami judge weds gays and lesbians after ruling against ban
MIAMI (AP) — Lesbian and gay couples were married in Miami on Monday by the same judge who said she saw no reason why they couldn’t immediately get their licenses ahead of Florida’s coming-out party as the 36th U.S. state where same-sex marriages are legal statewide.
The addition of Florida’s 19.9 million people means 70 percent of Americans now live in states where gay marriage is legal.
The courtroom erupted in cheers when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel cleared the way for the licenses issued to Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, and Jeff and Todd Delmay. Then she presided over their weddings in a dual ceremony.
More than 60 percent of voters approved an amendment to Florida’s constitution to ban same-sex marriages in 2008. But judges in Florida, as in many other states, found that such bans violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal treatment and due process.
Although same-sex marriage is now a reality in Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi is still pursuing appeals at both the federal and state levels. Her position — one shared by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, now considering a run for president — is that marriage should be defined by each state.
Bush, who opposed gay marriage while governor, tried to find middle ground Monday, urging people in a statement to “show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue - including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”
While the news that same-sex marriages were starting was largely met with cheers or even shrugs from Florida’s more liberal enclaves such as South Florida and St. Petersburg, signs of opposition to the rulings were evident farther north, where more conservative Floridians live.
In Jacksonville, Duval County Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell shut down the courthouse chapel, saying no marriage ceremonies -- either gay or straight -- would be allowed there. At least two other counties in northeast Florida did the same.
Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group based in the Orlando area, planned to file complaints in several counties Monday in an effort to block clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, said the group’s lawyer, Horatio “Harry” Mihet.
The legal rulings reflect how much Florida has changed since the days of Anita Bryant, the former beauty pageant queen and orange juice spokeswoman who started her national campaign against gay rights in Miami in the 1970s.
The state’s first weddings were set to happen in the same county where, 38 years ago, Bryant successfully campaigned to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays. The county commission reinstated those protections two decades later.
Bryant’s career suffered — as did Florida orange juice sales — and she blamed the “ultra-liberal press.”
“They’re saying I’m a bigot and have hatred for the homosexuals,” she told The AP in 1977. “I don’t hate homosexuals. I love them enough to tell them the truth: that God puts them in the category with other sinners.”
The state’s Catholic bishops issued a joint statement Monday expressing disappointment, saying implications of gay marriages aren’t fully understood and will upend millennia of tradition.
“How society understands marriage has great public significance,” they said. “Because of this, redefining civil ‘marriage’ to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society. Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults.”
Lush reported from St. Petersburg. AP writers Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Mike Schneider in Orlando and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola contributed to this report.