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Miami has been good to Nicole Waters and Viviana Villagra. The young couple Waters is 30 years old, Villagra 31 met here, fell in love here, and, only four months into their courtship, decided to spend the rest of their lives together here.
Miami has also been a haven of sorts for them. Villagra stayed in the closet until she moved here from Santiago, Chile, in 1999; Waters did the same until she left Cleveland for the subtropics ten years ago.
The two are not given to overwrought displays of public affection, but they're clearly in the early throes of love. That much is obvious, whether they're walking down Lincoln Road hand-in-hand or nestling in the same oversize chair at Starbucks, as they did on a recent afternoon.
They wear silver rings around their necks and finish each other's sentences on occasion. Waters, a thin brunet who works as a business manager for a Coral Gables firm, does most of the talking while Villagra, a dark-complexioned woman with an intense stare, fields cell phone calls in Spanish. They're finishing the planning for their August wedding ceremony or what they're calling a wedding, despite the fact that same-sex marriages have been illegal in Florida since 1997.
In any case, their life is a whirlwind of logistical considerations and think-on-your-feet decisions. Aside from the wedding, there is a move to consider (Villagra will be living in Waters's Miami Beach apartment), a honeymoon to plan (destinations: L.A. and San Francisco), and work to be done (Villagra is a property manager).
After pondering the heady changes to come, Waters describes their experience at Creative Weddings, one of many matrimonial boutiques on Miracle Mile; she passes it every day on her way to lunch. The store, owned by Erasmo Cruz, specializes in invitations. Linen and vellum rectangles in shades of yellow, pink, blue and ivory line the walls of his quiet shop. Graceful script and silk bows adorn the invitations.
"We went in there and asked about having invitations made for our wedding," Waters says. "The woman behind the counter went and got [Cruz] from the back and he seated us at a nice desk. He asked for the bride's name, and I said, 'It doesn't matter; you can put either name first.' He said, 'But who is getting married?' I said, 'We are.' He actually stepped back from the desk, away from us."
Cruz told the women, politely, they'd have to order their invitations elsewhere. His reason? "I am a Christian," he said.
Villagra scowls as Waters recounts this portion of the story. "I was raised in a Christian family in Chile," she says. "He was more homophobic than Christian."
Cruz turned the women away on May 25. Waters filed a complaint with Miami-Dade's Equal Opportunity Board a week later. It's unlikely, though, that the Board will take any action; the county's Human Rights Ordinance, which dictates the parameters of the board's purview, covers discrimination only in employment, housing, public accommodations, money-lending, and family leave.
Gay marriage is oft-discussed these days. This past Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted down a proposed Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage
"These types of incidents, like the one these women faced, are going to increase because of the environment created by the debate over the amendment," says Heddy Peña, director of SAVE Dade, an advocacy group that pushed lawmakers to include sexual-orientation protections in the Human Rights Ordinance when it was passed in 1998. "It emboldens people when the president is saying things that can be construed as anti-gay."
Cruz, the shop owner, is a tall, slight man with a manner as mild as his handshake. He recoiled when New Timesasked him about the lesbian couple he turned away. He said ordering invitations for a gay wedding would be a violation of his religious principles. "As I told the two lovely girls, I am a Sunday school teacher, and I just can't go against something I believe so strongly," Cruz said. He refused to comment further.