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Florida judge lifts stay, same‑sex marriages begin in Miami‑Dade County

Couples, left to right; Cathy Pareto with Karla Arguello, Jeff Delmay and Todd Delmay, David Price, and Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz, celebrate as Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifts a stay on her July ruling that Florida's same-sex marriage ban violates equal protections under the U.S. Constitution, Monday Jan. 5, 2015, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Couples, left to right; Cathy Pareto with Karla Arguello, Jeff Delmay and Todd Delmay, David Price, and Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz, celebrate as Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel lifts a stay on her July ruling that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban violates equal protections under the U.S. Constitution, Monday Jan. 5, 2015, allowing same-sex couples to marry. Walter Michot, The Miami Herald (AP)

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Gay rights advocates called it a pivotal moment for the entire country. On Friday, Supreme Court justices will decide in private whether to rule on the merits of gay marriage during their current term.

“Florida is a bellwether state, and I can think of no more encouraging sign as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide whether to resolve this issue for the entire country at its next conference on January 9,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

But signs of opposition were evident farther north, where more conservative Floridians live.

In Jacksonville, Duval County Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell shut down the courthouse chapel, saying no more marriage ceremonies — gay or straight — would be allowed there. At least a dozen counties across the state announced similar policy changes.

“Mr. Fussell said some of his people felt a little uncomfortable doing it,” said his spokesman, Charlie Broward. “It could cause discriminations down there (in the marriage license department) with those who are uncomfortable. We wanted to eliminate any unfairness.”

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel cleared the way for the first same-sex weddings ahead of midnight, when U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle’s ruling was taking effect statewide.

Then, she presided over a dual ceremony, marrying Todd and Jeff Delmay moments after marrying Pareto and Arguello in chambers packed with supporters and news media. The women work in investment banking, and have an adopted 2-year-old son. The Delmays, together nearly 12 years, have a 4-year-old adopted son and operate an event-planning business.

Todd and Jeff legally changed their last names to Delmay – an amalgamation of their prior surnames – and have worn wedding rings on their right hands for years. On Monday, they switched them to the left.

“It’s such a journey we’ve been on. We’re just thrilled,” said Todd Delmay. “We’re thrilled for everybody. It’s such a transformative time.”

More weddings were planned Tuesday in large-scale ceremonies in Orlando, Tampa, Key West and Broward County. Palm Beach was preparing for a flood of applications, and a courthouse in Delray Beach was opening Monday night to officiate at a mass wedding after midnight.

“I think we’re going to have a huge turnout,” said Palm Beach County Clerk’s spokeswoman Kristina Ciuperger.

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