“It has been very difficult. Like eating a bowl spaghetti with a knife, the process has been messy and not satisfying until today,” is how attorney Bernadette Restivo described the case in which she represented Key West’s Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones against the state of Florida to allow same-sex marriage.
Local Judge Luis Garcia ruled the ban was unconstitutional in July which touched off a spate of appeals which ended when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in late December, ending the stay that expired on Jan. 6. On New Year’s Day, federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee clarified the ruling extended to all counties in Florida.
On Monday, at the stroke of midnight, Jones and Huntsmen tied the knot on the Key West courthouse steps with a crowd of supporters and well-wishers in attendance. The exuberance of the moment stands in stark contrast to the seriousness of the issue – granting same-sex partners the same rights as any heterosexual couple in the state of Florida.
It was also an important night for 20-year couple Edie Hambright, 65, and Julia Davis, 78, of Key West. The couple was married in 2014 in New York, where the license was recognized.
“We knew we wanted to marry each other when we first met and fell in love, June, 1, 1994,” said Hambright.
The couple took their marriage idea more seriously when it started getting national attention and gaining acceptance at the state level. Thanksgiving, 2013, they were engaged for real this time and married at the GLBT Expo in New York.
Davis started tearing up and said she thought she would never see the day.
“I am 78 years old and thought it would never happen in lifetime. There are a lot of things just now becoming excepted across the board and it is fantastic. Most of all it is great to be viewed the same way as other people are viewed,” said Davis. “It is a matter of civil rights. Interracial marriage did not start until 1967. The next generation will be proud.”
As the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, same-sex couples were granted the same legal rights as heterosexual couples across the state. A lengthy list of 1,300 plus rights encompasses retirement packages, joint taxes, health insurance and the ability to visit a husband or wife in the hospital.
The legal recognition of Frank Cathpole and Chris Kessler’s relationship was paramount to the Marathon couple. They were the first to receive a marriage license from the Marathon Clerk of the Court’s satellite office on Tuesday morning.
“For years we’ve been carrying around envelopes that are two inches thick that are full of legal paperwork in case one of us had a health issue and ended up in the hospital,” Catchpole said. “Now we don’t have to carry that around anymore.”
Catchpole said he and his partner of 20 years also appreciate the married benefits that will be available to them and favorable tax status.
“It’s nice to be on the same ground as everyone else,” he said.
Florida is the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.