Florida poised to become Deep South’s prime gay wedding destination

Edgard Perez, left, 40, and his spouse Charles Windham, right, 53, pose for a photo after they were married at the marriage license bureau, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 in Miami. Wilfredo Lee, AP

Pat Frank, Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court, presides over a mass same-sex wedding near the Hillsborough County Courthouse Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. Chris O'Meara, AP

Pat Frank, Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court, presides over a mass same-sex wedding near the Hillsborough County Courthouse Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.

YULEE, Fla. — With same-sex marriage now legal in Florida, same-sex couples from around the Deep South crossed the border Tuesday as the Sunshine State became a prime regional destination for gay and lesbian weddings still banned back home.

Out-of-state couples lined up outside county courthouses early Tuesday in the Panhandle and northern Florida counties. Some drove for hours to get marriage licenses at the first opportunity.

“As soon as we heard about the ruling we pretty much decided on a whim to come yesterday,” said Scott Singletary, 22. “We wanted to make sure to do it as soon as possible, in case (the law) changed.”

On that point, Florida’s gay and lesbian weddings seem more secure than the first same-sex nuptials held years ago in other states.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a request by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to maintain the state’s marriage ban until a final resolution.

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After she was sworn in to a second term on Tuesday, Bondi said her top attorneys are reviewing whether to continue the state’s appeal.

Singletary and Dustyn Batten, 23, of Waycross, Georgia woke before dawn to make the nearly two-hour drive into Florida’s Nassau County. They had been planning a commitment ceremony in Jacksonville, but were thrilled to learn they could actually get married now that Florida’s gay marriage ban was lifted.

Walt Disney World and other top Florida destinations have offered commitment ceremony packages for years, but wedding planners, and hotels and resorts are sensing a new tourism boom with more couples wanting weddings.

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