As gay marriages begin just after midnight tonight, it's a historic day for Florida -- and particularly for Fort Lauderdale, which according to 2012 Census data, has the highest percentage of same-sex households in America, 2.8 percent.
South Florida has come a long way in acceptance of gay rights. In the 1970s, Florida Citrus Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant famously railed against gay couples and encouraged Miami-Dade voters to repeal a anti-discrimination ordinance that gave protection to gays. (Gays fired back with a boycott of Florida orange juice, and Bryant's career suffered.) As recently as 2007, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle was publicly taunting homosexuals, saying that they shouldn't be called gay because they were all "unhappy." He shot down a proposal to install badly-needed public toilets on Fort Lauderdale Beach out of fear that gays would have sex inside.
While this kind of blatant discrimination is largely gone from politics in South Florida, sadly it perseveres in the northern part of the state. Though all clerks have been ordered by a federal judge to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex-couples, those in at least five counties have opted to discontinue the practice of performing marriage ceremonies in the courthouse rather than perform them for gay couples.
Heather Brassner, a Palm Beach County art dealer, was one of the plaintiffs whose lawsuits helped force Florida to recognize same-sex unions. She filed suit in Broward County to divorce a partner she'd married in Vermont. Her divorce was granted December 17. She told New Times that now that gay marriage is proceeding, she looked forward to marrying her new partner, Jennifer Feagin, a Whole Foods employee. "I'm excited to finally be able to marry my other half, Jennifer," said Brassner. "I feel safe, loved unconditionally and complete with her. She and I are going to do the online course and then apply for a marriage license after Tuesday."
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Several court cases in Florida challenged Florida's ban on gay marriage, which was written into the state constitution after Florida voters approved it in 2008. It's the federal case Brenner v. Scott --in which a Tallahassee firefighter, Jim Brenner, is suing the state via governor Rick Scott for the right to marry his partner -- that brought a federal judge to declare the ban unconstitutional, and declare that clerks issue marriage licenses beginning tonight. Though weddings will begin, the state is still appealing the Brenner case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could possibly reverse the decision. It is expected to take up the case in the coming months. It's also possible that the Brenner case, or a similar gay marriage case from another state, could ultimately require that Supreme Court issue a decision on gay marriage.
As for couples who want to hurry to the altar -- or at least the courthouse -- and make it official, Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock will lead a mass wedding at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday at the Delray Beach courthouse. In Broward County, clerk Howard Forman will lead a mass wedding at 3 a.m. Tuesday.
Weeks ago, we warned gay couples that unless they take a premarital course, there's a three-day waiting period between the time of applying for a marriage license and the time a wedding can be performed, but Bock told the Sun-Sentinel that she would waive that requirement "for same-sex couples who come to the courthouse on Jan. 6 under a hardship exception."
Congrats to all the happy couples!