On Monday, history was made in Florida. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel lifted her stay on Pareto v. Ruvin in the morning, allowing same-sex couples in Miami to marry one day before the rest of Florida.
The first same-sex couple to marry in the Sunshine State was Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello. Pareto, who grew up in the Magic City, said she still can't believe she's married.
Even after all the court victories for gay-marriage advocates, she knew there was no guarantee that Zabel would lift her stay.
"It has been a very emotional day," she said. "Karla and I are beyond ecstatic that we are the first. We were hopeful this morning, but we were not sure [Zabel] would lift the stay. We could barely have breakfast this morning because the outcome could have gone either way."
Pareto and Arguello, who met in Miami more than 15 years ago, were overwhelmed by the media as they walked to the clerk's office to obtain their marriage license.
"It was the walk of pride," Pareto said.
At the clerk's office, Deborah Shure, 66, and Aymarah Robles, 60, beat the Pareto plaintiffs to the waiting line.
The two were at the hearing when Zabel lifted the stay and did not see why they could not receive their license too. The couple was the first in the Sunshine State to receive a marriage license recognizing a same-sex couple.
"We're so happy. It is very shocking in a way, and we have not been able to plan anything as far as our wedding is concerned," Shure said. "Still, it is great to be part of the beginning."
Shure and Robles receive their marriage license. The first in Florida to recognize a same-sex couple.
Photo by Jonathan Kendall
Once Pareto and Arguello received their marriage license after Shure and Robles, they walked together through the streets of downtown Miami back to the courthouse, where Zabel awaited to marry them and fellow coplaintiffs in Pareto, Todd and Jeff Delmay.
"A noble purpose of your life is to share love. Love is not to be kept; it is to be shared. It has a broader meaning that just your personal feelings for each other. Love is like justice and beauty; it is difficult to explain and describe, but love is the ingredient of life which motivates and leads us to goals beyond our own ambitions," Zabel said to Pareto and Arguello in the courtroom, packed with the media. "The vows you are about to take are a public confirmation of your trust and love for each other."
Pareto and Arguello leaned into each other and smiled.
"When she was marrying us, we were overcome with emotion, and it was so surreal that it was really happening. It was really magical," Pareto recalled. "Chaotic because of everyone surrounding us, but magical."
After they sealed their union with a kiss, Zabel immediately read the same weddings vows to the Delmays.
Both couples meet before Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel to be married.
Photo credit: Jonathan Kendall
Following their ceremony, Todd Delmay spoke with New Times about how thrilled he was that Miami-Dade was the first to have marriage equality in the state.
"I think it is fitting given the history of our community leading the way in Miami," he said. "From Anita Bryant to the gay adoption ban to marriage equality, the giants of our community have fought for equal rights. Today was their victory too, and we are proud to stand on their shoulders."
Pareto and Arguello also feel grateful to be part of the initiative to bring marriage equality to Florida.
"It was not just us today at the altar. It was the spirit of the LGBT community that we were representing," Pareto said. "Karla and I want to thank everyone who gave us their support and love. The floodgates are open now in Florida. Go marry! Thirty-six states down, 14 to go. Keep fighting."
At about the same time Zabel was marrying the couples in the Pareto case, another same-couple on the other side of the county were among the first to be married in Florida.
At the Miami Beach District Court, Avi and Logan Toledano watched the news unfold on TV that marriage equality had come to Miami-Dade before the rest of the state. Anticipating that would be the case, the couple proactively went to the courthouse to apply. However, they were unsure whether the clerk's office would issue them a marriage license immediately after Zabel lifted her stay on Pareto.
"We were there watching the news unfolding crying in the waiting room. When [the Deputy Clerk Franco Velasco] called our number in line I was scared that he wouldn't let us marry, but nope he was so happy for us," said Logan, who works as an associate nurse manager for Ryder Trauma Center . "It was cute. A straight man to be so excited for us like he was."
After the couple paid for their marriage license and ceremony, Velasco directed them to a small room designated for conducting marriage ceremonies and read them their vows.
Though the couple has been together for nearly a decade, getting to the altar has been a long time coming for them.
Avi married a woman several years ago, who out of love for the same-sex couple, married him so he and Logan would not have to leave the country.
"My husband is from Israel and I had to stand back and watch him marry a woman so he could stay in America with me," said Logan. "I could not even go to the courthouse to show support when they got married. I stayed home because of the emotional pain. It prevented me from going."
Since Florida did not recognize same-sex marriage, Logan was heartbroken that someone else would be Avi's spouse. Even if the woman who married Avi was a good friend of the couple.
"That day he got married to her I cried," said Logan. "I cried my heart out. Knowing it should have been me. It destroyed my heart. But I had no choice."
Logan told New Times, that though he was devastated the man he loved married someone else, when it "should" have been him, healing has come this week because now it is he who is married to Avi.
Avi and Logan Toledano kiss at the end of their wedding vows.
Photo credit: Franco Velasco
"That's why we picked South Beach," said Logan, tears falling from his eyes. "Because that's where they got married. I needed it to be there to help remove the scar my heart carried for years. Back then I just had to pretend that Avi and I were friends to protect her and him. That's what killed me. All those years I had to take antidepressants. But not anymore. Now Avi is an American citizen and divorced and I finally came out of hiding."
After their ceremony, the two took off on their scooter through the streets of South Beach and had a celebratory meal at Juvia on Lincoln Road.
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"Avi is just so excited like me. Feeling blessed and grateful for the judges that made all this possible," said an emotionally overwhelmed Logan. "Today was beyond happiness."
Among being one of the very first same-sex couples married in the Sunshine State, the Toledanos are also the first same-sex couple married in Miami Beach.