Today, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel has lifted a stay on her decision to invalidate Florida's prohibition of gay marriage. The decision, in a case called Pareto v. Ruvin, means Miami-Dade County is the first place in the state to have marriage equality. The first marriage will likely take place at around 2 P.M. today.
Among the plaintiffs are Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, who were overjoyed that they would be allowed to apply for their marriage license today. "I feel amazing!" Vanessa said. "I can't wait to apply right now with Melanie! We get to apply for a marriage license today -- that is the most amazing thing!"
When Riptide spoke with them, the two were on their way to the clerk's office, where they and the other coplaintiffs will apply for licenses. "I'm so excited we're going to be married!" Melanie said.
Row lliescu from Equality Florida was also delighted by Zabel's decision. "I'm elated," lliescu said. "There's so much pent-up emotion coming out in streams. Equality Florida, other organizations, and these couples have waited so long for same-sex marriage to come to the state! This is the best way to start the year!"
Todd and Jeff Delmay will be married today by Zabel herself. "There are no words right now except elation," Todd said.
"I feel like I'm floating," Jeff said while holding Todd's hand as the pair headed to the clerk's office.
Gay marriage will be allowed in most of the rest of Florida at midnight, though some North Florida counties have ceased marrying people to sidestep the controversy.
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee declared the state ban unconstitutional in August but stayed his decision through today. Both the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend the stay.
Zabel was the second state judge -- after a Florida Keys magistrate -- to declare the 2008 amendment to Florida's constitution invalid. Two other judges, in Broward and Palm Beach, joined them.
Zabel ruled in favor of six same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute. They sued last January 21. Other plaintiffs included Jorge Isaias Diaz and Don Price Johnston of Miami; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price of Davie; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier of Hollywood; Todd and Jeff Delmay of Hollywood; and Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber of Plantation.
Florida is the 36th state to allow gay marriage. Last year at this time, it was allowed in only 16 states and the District of Columbia. Now, 70 percent of Americans live in states that allow such unions. "The overwhelming tidal wave of court rulings over the last year has put America on the cusp of nationwide marriage equality," said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) legal director Sarah Warbelow. "Committed and loving gay and lesbian couples in Florida are just as deserving of marriage rights as anyone else. It's time government officials such as Attorney General Bondi and individuals like her across the country stop fighting to uphold discrimination. As long as shameful marriage bans stay in place, real people and real families are harmed."
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Florida's Catholic bishops, however, were none too happy with the decision: "Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults," they wrote in a prepared statement. "Such a redefinition of marriage does nothing to safeguard a child's right to a mother and father and to be raised in a stable family where his or her development and well-being is served to the greatest extent possible."
Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello, plaintiffs in Pareto are the first same-sex couple to be married in Florida. They were immediately followed by co-plaintiffs Todd and Jeff Delmay, who were also married by Zabel.