DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Same-sex couples in Florida were able to get married statewide for the first time Tuesday.
Ceremonies commenced after midnight, and marriage licenses were issued en masse to gay and lesbian partners.
In South Florida, hundreds gathered at two courthouses for late-night group marriages facilitated by the clerks in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Under a 30-foot-pillar inside the Delray Beach courthouse, the couples stood wall-to-wall and said their vows, prompting happy roars from their family members nearby. Some of the couples were in their seventies and had waited more than a decade to wed.
“It’s a historic celebration. At 12:01 [a.m.], it’s the first moment Palm Beach County can issue marriage licenses,” Chief Communications Officer Kristina Ciuperger said in a phone interview.
Counties in North Florida began processing same-sex marriage applications Tuesday morning.
“It’s hard to tell how many people to anticipate,” Hernando County Clerk Don Barbee told Courthouse News. “It could be 3 or 300.”
The landmark shift in Florida’s marriage regulations stems from a ruling in Brenner v. Scott, a consolidated federal court case whereby a group of plaintiffs challenged Florida’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.
Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida fielded the case and eventually sided with the plaintiffs’ argument that the ban violates their constitutional rights.
Hinkle wrote in his August 2014 ruling: “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.”
Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction that cast aside Florida’s gay marriage restrictions; however, he stayed enforcement of his order until January 5, 2015, pending the appeals process.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi unsuccessfully battled to push that date back and prevent the marriages from taking place. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and subsequently the United States Supreme Court rejected Bondi and the State of Florida’s attempts to further stay enforcement of Hinkle’s order.
In the final days of 2014, confusion lingered over the scope of Hinkle’s order, so, at the request of a county clerk involved in the case, Hinkle released an on-the-nose New Year’s Day clarification asserting that “the Constitution requires the Clerk” to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Miami-Dade thereafter was the fastest county to start issuing licenses, with counties across the state following suit the next day.
Still, Brenner v. Scott is on hold in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so the issue of same-sex marriage in Florida is not yet fully settled.
Although four federal appellate courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld gay marriage bans in several states.
The U.S. Supreme Court will be considering a series of certiorari petitions concerning gay marriage litigation on Friday, January 9.
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