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Judge's ruling overturning gay-marriage ban sets off celebrations across state

TAMPA

When Scott Barry and Vincent Zeoli can marry — someday soon, they hope — it will be in the church they say has become part of their community.

"We will get married in this church, in our state," Barry, 57, said of Unity of Tampa Church.

The Bayport couple of 31 years were among those from the church and Equality Florida who gathered in Unity's Fellowship Hall on Thursday night to celebrate a Monroe County judge's ruling earlier in the day overturning Florida's 2008 constitutional ban on gay marriage.

"We've come such a long way, but we still have a long way to go," said Zeoli, 55. "I just want to have the same rights as everybody else, that's all."

Supporters headed to churches on both sides of the bay to celebrate. In St. Petersburg, Equality Florida volunteers welcomed them in the lobby of King of Peace Metropolitan Church, where celebratory signs blended in with the everyday decor of the church, whose congregation is about 95 percent gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Jennifer Kilmurray started volunteering with Equality Florida in February, soon after the organization got established in St. Petersburg. Kilmurray, who married her partner in 2005 in Connecticut, said friends from home thought the couple were crazy when they decided to move to Florida, a place where their commitment is not legally recognized.

"Why should my marriage vows stop at the border?" she said. "We were both upset that our marriage didn't matter in Florida, that it wasn't recognized. We wanted to be recognized."

Thursday's ruling, although it was stayed, has left the Rev. Dr. Candace R. Shultis and her congregation encouraged.

"We're very optimistic. There's no caution about it," she said. "Heck, if Utah can do it, Florida can do it."

At Unity of Tampa, Denise Fletcher, 65, and Cece Arduengo, 65, stood at the front of the room to share their story. The Tampa couple married two months ago in New York City, with Fletcher's niece as one of their witnesses.

"It was just amazing — the city, getting married, hopping in a cab, walking up the Brooklyn Bridge," Arduengo said.

Same-sex marriage became legal in New York in 2011. But they could feel that attitudes were changing here when they were shopping for rings in Tampa before their wedding. Sales people wanted to take pictures with them. They felt acceptance, Fletcher said.

"Tampa has been progressing, and I think it's only a matter of time," she said.

Celebrations took place across the state Thursday. About 50 supporters lined Monroe Street in Tallahassee outside of the Historic Capitol to celebrate the ruling. They waved rainbow flags and signs adorned with hearts, and cheered when passing motorists honked in support.

In Key West, the winning plaintiffs, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, wore rainbow sashes and held hands as they climbed onto the stage of Aqua Nightclub and bar in their hometown to celebrate the ruling.

Tears streamed down the face of Jones, who was too choked up to speak in front of the crowd. But Huntsman was able to express their feelings of gratitude. He thanked everybody for their support and said he was confident that this ruling would mean they would soon be able to get married in the place they love. "We're just two normal guys who are in love."

In Miami, Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz, one of the six couples challenging the ban in Miami-Dade court, attended a celebration in Miami Beach's LGBT resource center. Johnston, who said he was thrilled by the ruling, called it the "happiest day for gay people in Florida."

"All the other rights are important, but marriage is everything to me," Johnston said.

Back in St. Petersburg, Heidi Quintana and Vicky Fales' 4-year-old son held the microphone as they spoke. "Depending on your ZIP code, this is either my wife or my partner," Quintana said, gesturing to Fales. They have been together for 12 years and were married in Connecticut.

"Anyone who is lucky enough to find love … should not be denied the right to recognize and formalize that commitment," Quintana said.

The audience cheered as the women picked a cheek and kissed their son wedged between them.

Miami Herald staff writers Cammy Clark, Emma Court and Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.

Judge's ruling overturning gay-marriage ban sets off celebrations across state 07/17/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 11:21pm]

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