It took six minutes, $30 and the click of a notary stamp for Charles Edwin Kyle, 60, and Ronald Zweig, 68, to gain legal validation for their relationship of 16 years, 3 months and 25 days.
Tampa's domestic partnership registry — the first created in the Tampa Bay area when Mayor Bob Buckhorn signed the law in April — opened for business at 9 a.m. Monday at Old City Hall. The city of Gulfport's domestic partnership registry also went into effect Monday.
In Tampa, Kyle and Zweig were one of 29 couples to brave Tropical Storm Debby and receive their domestic partnership certificates. For the couple, who lived through decades of discrimination, the registry is tangible evidence of just how far the LGBT — or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — community has come. Zweig remembers when gays and lesbians were banned from dancing in public and a man could get fired because of his sexual orientation. When he was 19, his parents sent him to a psychiatrist. The doctor's treatment focused on telling Zweig when and where he could meet women.
"Despite all the limitations of the legal rights, things have come a long way," he said. "We live in much less fear than we used to."
For Kyle, who came out when he was 18, it's been 42 years of prejudice in a life marked by unfulfilled civil rights. He hasn't stepped foot in a straight bar since the mid 1980s when a man beat him bloody as the other patrons stood by in silence.
"Until you've lived a life when you've been discriminated against, you have no idea what it's like," Kyle said. "I never in my life thought I'd see this moment. As homophobic and prejudiced against gays as this state is, this is huge for Florida."
The couple met one Friday night at a now-closed dance club in Tampa. Kyle was drawn toward Zweig's intelligence and masculinity — and his hairy chest. Kyle's affectionate and warm-hearted nature captured Zweig's attention.
During the next 16 years, they built a relationship enriched by their differences. Kyle, an outspoken artist, brims with energy, while Zweig, a mathematician, radiates a more soft-spoken nature.
"This man has given me stability to stand on, and I think I've brought affection and some level of excitement," Kyle said. "We want the same things that any other dedicated couple is afforded."
Though the registry is a step in the right direction, it hasn't solved all problems, Kyle said. Only a handful of cities in Florida have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. And if Kyle and Zweig go outside Tampa borders, they're not just leaving the city, but their newly acquired rights, as well.
"I fear if we're on a trip together and we're in an accident, they'd have the legal right to keep us apart from each other," Kyle said. "I want our hearts, our homes and our finances protected at the time of our deaths."
City Hall was dominated by same-sex couples on Monday, but it was no coincidence that the first couple to do the honors — as proved by their certificate ending in "-0001" — was City Council member Lisa Montelione and her fiance, Josh Geary.
"I wanted to make sure that people understand that this registry is for everyone," said Montelione, who has been an activist and member of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally Alliance for years. "It is not a gay or straight issue. It is an issue of just having human rights."
Christine Sutton, 43, and Kacey Crisler, 33, were the first same-sex couple to receive their certificate at City Hall. Sutton let out a gentle "ahhh!" — mimicking a chorus of angels — when the notary stamp pressed down on the paper. Those indentations were more than marks on a page. They meant the education system would view her as a parent of Crisler's 9-year-old daughter who calls her Mom. It also meant if she ever wrecked "Jessie," her black and blue Suzuki 2001 motorcycle, that health care providers couldn't ban Crisler from the hospital room.
"God forbid, if something should happen, I don't have to wonder what would happen to me or if Kacey could come in," Sutton said. "I don't do first in anything, but I gave her my word that today, for this, we'd be one of the first people here."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3111.