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Same-Sex Marriages Start In Florida


Today, Florida became the 36th state to legalize gay marriage after an extended legal battle in state and federal courts. NPR's Greg Allen was at the courthouse in Miami for today's ruling.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Gay and lesbian couples and their supporters filled the courtroom today as Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel announced she was lifting a stay allowing same-sex couples to get married.



ALLEN: Judge Zabel was one of five state judges who, over the last year, heard cases challenging Florida's ban on same-sex marriages. In every case, the judges struck down the ban, which was enshrined in the state constitution by a voter referendum in 2008. Like the other state judges and U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, Judge Zabel ruled that Florida's ban violated the constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law. Following his ruling striking down the ban, Judge Hinkle imposed a stay to allow clerks of court in Florida's 67 counties to get ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That stay expires tonight at midnight. But Judge Zabel held a hearing early to allow couples in Miami-Dade to lead the way.



ALLEN: Outside the courthouse in downtown Miami, gay and lesbian couples posed for photos while onlookers yelled, kiss, kiss. Melanie Alenier and Jorge Diaz, with their partners, were two of the couples who sued for the right to marry.

MELANIE ALENIER: Emotional - I mean, finally, we're allowed to do something that we want to do. And no one's going to tell us no.

JORGE DIAZ: And we're equal, which is the most import thing - very proud of our county today and very proud of our state.

ALLEN: On a national level, Florida's actions are hardly groundbreaking. Already, 35 states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. Florida, though, is a big state with some 20 million people. As of midnight, now some 70 percent of the nation lives in a state that recognizes gay marriage. For Florida and Miami, there's another significance as well. It marks a turnabout from the 1970s, when former beauty queen Anita Bryant led a campaign opposing gay rights that started in Miami. In the meantime, many gay and lesbian couples in Florida have gotten married in other states, but not two of the plaintiffs in the Miami case, Jeff Delmay and his partner, Todd Delmay. They decided to wait.

JEFF DELMAY: Florida's our home. We always wanted to get married here. It means so much to us and to our family, you know, our life here. We just decided we wanted to stay and fight and do whatever we could to help make today possible.

TODD DELMAY: Absolutely.

ALLEN: In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, St. Petersburg and other cities, lifting the ban is an occasion for celebration. But there are still many in Florida unhappy with the court rulings. Anthony Verdugo is with the Christian Family Coalition, a group that fought to maintain the gay marriage ban. He says in lifting the ban, Judge Zabel and the other judges disregarded the will of the voters.

ANTHONY VERDUGO: Eight million Floridians voted on this issue. This is a public policy issue. And their votes have been violated. So it is shameful. We're witnessing the death of democracy in Florida.

ALLEN: In more than a dozen counties in North Florida, including Duval, county clerks say they will issue licenses but will stop holding any courthouse weddings. It's a decision that Stratton Pollitzer of Equality Florida calls shameful.

STRATTON POLLITZER: I think they will look back on this with embarrassment and regret. I think it is the ugliest form of prejudice manifest, and I hope they reverse themselves right away.

ALLEN: In Miami, weddings are already underway. In Ft. Lauderdale, Key West and other cities, licenses will begin being issued and marriages performed for gay and lesbian couples beginning at midnight. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.