At 12:01AM, January 6, 2015, the LGBTQI community of Florida will receive a gift. It won’t come in a box, wrapped in paper with a bow on top. It’s not something that can be contained in a bottle of bubbly, or put in a stocking. It’s a gift that comes in a legal opinion authored by United States District Court Judge Robert Hinkle declaring Florida’s laws, both in the state constitution and state statutes that limited marriage to heterosexuals only, to be in violation of the United States Constitution; hence marriage equality will be coming to Florida. In the words of Judge Hinkle:
"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage... will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held. The institution of marriage survived when bans on interracial marriage were struck down, and the institution will survive when bans on same-sex marriage are struck down. Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts. Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage. Tolerating views with which one disagrees is a hallmark of civilized society." (Judge Hinkle, August 21, 2014)
Pardon me while I wipe away tears.
This has been a long slog for many of us. When my partner and I were first dating and I asked about having some kind of a commitment ceremony that was all we could hope for. It wouldn't come with state and federal recognition, so that we might have benefits and protection of our property. And certainly, neither of us at that time conceived of having our union blessed. (Neither of us was active in a religious community, and the Episcopal Church wasn'tanywhere close to blessing same-sex couples!) When the movement for marriage equality began in Hawaii, and then had success in Massachusetts, it was intriguing, but still seemed a far-fetched notion that this would catch on, especially in Florida.
Then came Iowa.
And Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, California (on again, off again, on again) the District of Columbia…
As marriage equality was becoming a reality, opponents continued their fight. It wasn’t enough to have marriage outlawed in four places in the Florida statutes; they needed a constitutional amendment.
And they got it…with just over 61-percent of the vote in 2008. It was a moment of bitterness to realize that a majority of those who cast ballots in an election that helped put Barack Obama in the White House also brought out voters who were willing to make me and my partner second-class citizens. It was devastating.
And so we marched. We shared our lives and our stories. We organized. And we filed lawsuits.
And we won a victory in June, 2013, in the United States Supreme Court with the Windsor decision.
Quickly, the dominoes began to fall. State after state, some by popular vote, many by court order. Secular and religious leaders were standing up for our rights. Even President Barack Obama arrived at a place where he was comfortable saying he had no problem with marriage equality.
Still, as all this happened, those of us in Florida kept wondering, “When will this be our reality?”
That time has arrived. Not without pain and suffering through the attempts to stall Judge Hinkle’s order. But it has now really arrived.
That this moment is coming to pass on the day that Christians celebrate the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi bearing frankincense, gold, and myrrh, could not be more perfect. These wise men following a star in the east come bearing gifts to one whose purpose will be to spread the Good News of Love. They are overjoyed at the sight of this child, born in exile, and unpack their treasures for him.
This is very much what this moment in our state’s history feels like. The courts have followed Wisdom that has led justices to bestow upon a community, singled out for who we love, with the gift of equal rights in marriage.
It is also not lost on me that our wonderful happy day is coming on the same day that the opponents of the LGBTQI community will be taking the oath of office for another four-year term. John Stemberger, the man who put the noxious anti-marriage amendment on the ballot in 2008 is on the guest list for the pre-inaugural prayer breakfast. There are clerks of court in Baker, Clay, Duval, Okaloosa, and Santa Rosa Counties who have responded to the ruling by ending the tradition of courthouse weddings for anyone rather than be compelled to marry a lesbian or gay couple. Without statewide, or in many places county protections from discrimination, we may get married, but we aren’t necessarily protected from losing our jobs, housing or access to public accommodations. After the Magi left the manger, Mary and Joseph had to stay on the run with Jesus because King Herod was out to kill him. Love seems to never know complete peace or absence of fear and loathing in the world. We are still a long way from reaching full equality.
For now, however, the celebrations are on. My partner and I will be heading to the clerk’s office to make our application for a marriage license. It will be a lovely step forward in this 23+ year “courtship” and the start of the state-recognition of our marriage. Let the wedding bells of freedom peal out over the Sunshine State.