KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Hours after the courts decided that same-sex couples could be married, 50 couples participated in the "Vowed and Proud" wedding ceremony Tuesday, an event that celebrated the historic first day that marriage will be recognized for same-sex couples in Florida.
Florida's ban on same-sex marriage ended statewide at the stroke of midnight Monday, and court clerks in some Florida counties wasted no time, issuing marriage licenses overnight to same-sex couples.
Channel 9's Shannon Butler spent the day with several couples as dozens of ceremonies were held throughout Orlando on Tuesday.
"It's really the whole feeling of knowing that you actually have the chance to share what you feel for somebody the real way," said newlywed Odalis Gonzales.
A white cake, white dresses and even white flowers were all donated for the big event.
Mayor Buddy Dyer was on
hand at Orlando City Hall, happy to perform the ceremony and sign the marriage licenses.
"It's exactly the right thing to do on so many levels," he said.
Some couples have been partners for 40 years. They exchanged vows, rings and then sealed the deal.
Carrie Shak and Melene Binau Bonner said they have waited three years for this day.
"This means the world to us. It's not just a commitment to each other, but now it's legally binding," said Shak.
Shak is American and Bonner is from Denmark.
"So this also means I get to stay, too, with Carrie in this country. That means we don't have to be apart anymore," said Bonner.
The historical day did not come without controversy, a few protesters or without legal challenges.
"It's not legal in the
sight of God. That's what's wrong with the world today," said the Rev. Cliffton Dancy.
But for those getting married at City Hall, the protestors weren't anything to worry about.
"We are the 36th state, a little behind the times
, in fact, to recognize marriage equality. Times have changed, just as they have changed over the history of time in civil rights issues. I think it's important today we recognize marriage equality in the state and in our city," Dyer said.
At midnight, 28 couples picked up marriage licenses at the Osceola County courthouse and 19 got married, including the county's first openly gay commissioner, Cheryl Grieb.
"It's nice now. We've considered ourselves married for many, many years. We've been together for 22 years, and we have the same rights that everyone else does. When you believe in something, you fight for that," said Grieb.
Grieb married Patti Daugherty at the Osceola County Courthouse in Kissimmee, just south of Orlando. Dressed in matching white pants and white embroidered shirts, the couple stood under a canopy of lace and ribbons as County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez officiated, and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson served as a witness. A countdown clock was placed in the front of the room, and supporters counted down to midnight 10 seconds before the clock struck 12.
"It's been a long time coming. We're just so excited and so happy," said Grieb, whose marriage was the first in Osceola County and was followed by 27 others in the early-morning hours.
Outside the courthouse, about 20 protesters held signs reading, "God says male and female should be married" and "Sodom and Gomorrah," but same-sex marriage supporters ignored them.
Other counties were eager to welcome same-sex couples to official ceremonies after midnight, when U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle's ruling that Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional took effect in all 67 counties. Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, is still pursuing state and federal appeals, seeking to uphold the ban that voters approved in 2008, but her effort to block these weddings until the courts finally rule was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The addition of Florida's 19.9 million people means 70 percent of Americans now live in the 36 states where gay marriage is legal -- a profound change in national political terms. Judges in Florida and many other states have found that bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of equal treatment and due process.
Now that same-sex marriage is a reality in Florida, Bondi's spokeswoman told The Associated Press that "the judge has ruled, and we wish these couples the best."
Republican Jeb Bush, who opposed gay marriage while serving as Florida's governor and who now may seek the presidency, also sought a middle ground Monday.
"We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law," Bush said in a statement, urging people to "show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue -- including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."
In Jacksonville, Duval County Court Clerk Ronnie Fussell shut down the courthouse chapel, saying no marriage ceremonies -- either gay or straight -- would be allowed there. At least two other counties in northeast Florida did the same.