Gay and Lesbian couples in Florida celebrate as judge says they can marry

Judge oversaw some of first ceremonies after making ruling

Newlyweds Karla Arguello (L) and Catherina Pareto walk out of the Miami-Dade courthouse as the first couple to marry in Florida after Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel presided over the marriage of the couple during a ceremony in the judges courtroom on January 5
Newlyweds Karla Arguello (L) and Catherina Pareto walk out of the Miami-Dade courthouse as the first couple to marry in Florida after Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel presided over the marriage of the couple during a ceremony in the judges courtroom on January 5

Lesbian and gay couples were married in Miami on Monday by the same judge who said she saw no reason why they could not immediately get their licenses ahead of Florida's coming-out party as the 36th US state where same-sex marriages are legal statewide.

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.

Florida's constitution was amended to ban same-sex marriages in 2008 by voters who approved it by a 60 per cent margin. But judges in the nation's third-largest state found it discriminatory, mirroring decisions in many other states.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has appeals pending in state and federal courts, seeking to uphold the state's ban. Ms Bondi's position — one shared by former Florida Gov Jeb Bush, now considering a run for president — is that marriage should be defined by each state.

While the news 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, Ms Bryant successfully campaigned to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays. The county commission reinstated those protections two decades later.

Ms 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 years 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.”

Associated Press

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