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Faces of gay marriage: Tampa Bay couples talk about why they've tied the knot


Kellie Peterson kisses and holds the hand of her partner Jennifer Hasbrook, Tuesday, January 6, 2015, as they were married at the Pinellas County Courthouse, St. Petersburg. Both are from St. St. Petersburg.  Tuesday was the first day same-sex marriage licenses were issued by Pinellas County along with marriages.
Kellie Peterson kisses and holds the hand of her partner Jennifer Hasbrook, Tuesday, January 6, 2015, as they were married at the Pinellas County Courthouse, St. Petersburg. Both are from St. St. Petersburg. Tuesday was the first day same-sex marriage licenses were issued by Pinellas County along with marriages.
Published Jan. 7, 2015

Erin Bell, 38, and Andrea DeFilippo, 37.

Home: St. Petersburg

What they do: Bell is business director of an adult living facility; DeFilippo is a pet stylist.

How they met: Four years ago through mutual friends. Engaged since May.

Why marriage: They planned a ceremony for next October and still will have that, but decided to have a civil ceremony now to ensure the legal protections marriage offers. "We were afraid that maybe it would be repealed,'' Bell said. "We just don't want anything to happen between now and October."

Quote: "We never in a million years thought we would be standing here even a week ago. We're still holding our breath," said Bell. "I feel wonderful wonderful wonderful. We're very happy. "

Curtis Krueger, Times staff

Jennifer Hasbrook, 43, and Kellie Peterson, 44.

Home: St. Petersburg

What they do: Hasbrook is a graduate student and Peterson runs an Internet firm in Tampa

How they met: Online, 3.5 years ago.

Why marriage: They were first in line at the downtown St. Petersburg office because they want the legal protections and recognition that come along with marriage.

Quote: "I get to say wifey,'' Hasbrook said. "I've been calling (Peterson) my wifey all these years. I know that sounds ridiculous but these things sometimes are more important than you can imagine."

Curtis Krueger, Times staff

Louise Spencer, 56, and Jill Beman, 63.

Home: Zephyrhills.

How and when they met: Introduced by a friend 24 years ago.

Why marriage: "We wanted the legal entitlements. There are some things that we were kept out of because we were gay," Spencer said.

Why they wanted to be first in line: "We thought there was going to be a crowd," said Spencer, who added that they were concerned the right to marry might be revoked as it was temporarily in at least one other state. "We thought they might pull a California on us."

Honeymoon plans? Not any time soon, because they have a horse, dog, goats and cats. "We have too many animals," Spencer said.

Dan Dewitt, Times staff

Gary Sechen, 60, and Wynn Miller, 70.

Home: Brooksville

How they met: Working on an AIDS hotline in New York City in the 1980s.

Why marriage: To claim their legal rights as a married couple. They've had to spend money on legal documents to ensure these rights in the past. "Now we have one, simple piece of paper that signifies everything," Sechen said.

Why they wanted to be first in line: Historical significance, said Miller. "After all these years of never thinking it would happen, to have it happen all of a sudden, it's like a renewal … It opens new doors."

Honeymoon plans? No need. "Every day is a honeymoon," Miller said.

Dan Dewitt, Times staff

Glenn Molina-Coats, 47, and Alberto Molina-Coats, 43

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Home: Tampa

How they met: When they met online in 1999, they realized they lived just five minutes from each other. Their first date was dinner and a movie.

Why marriage: "We've been living as a married couple for all that time, so time for us to actually get it down on paper," Alberto said. "We carry those documents around like a Suze Orman suitcase," Glenn said.

Honeymoon? Alberto turned to Glenn and asked: "Another one?"

Josh Solomon, Times staff

Shirley Winslow, 50, and Brenda Cuevas, 51

Home: Lutz

How they met: Winslow's boss set them up in 1989 when they both managers at local McDonald's franchises.

Why marriage: "For us, it's a symbol of our relationship. We want to show everyone else out there who may disapprove of same-sex marriage that we're not different from anyone else," Winslow said. "After 25 years of being together and being denied the basic civil liberties of married couples, it was time to take a stand and stand up for ourselves and get the recognition that we deserve."

Why Tuesday: They were the first couple to get married in Hillsborough County. "In all actuality, we had no expectation of being first," Winslow said. After news of big crowds in Miami-Dade County, they just wanted to ensure a spot in line.

Honeymoon: Winslow was pushing for the Bahamas. As for Cuevas, "I was thinking Vegas."

Josh Solomon, Times staff

Michael McKenzie, 52, and Jason Chandler, 55

Home: Tampa

How they met: Met 18 years ago over the internet and chatted online for six months before meeting in person

Why marriage: "Because of all the documents we have to carry around," McKenzie said. "And because we should have been able to do it a long time ago."

Why Tuesday: They wanted to beat any crowds and also wanted to be a part of history.

Kids: No kids, "but you never know," McKenzie said. "It would be a lot easier for us to get them now."

Honeymoon: Maybe Key West or a cruise.

Josh Solomon, Times staff

Karen Johnson, 42, and Zaida Morrison, 40

Home: St. Petersburg

How they met: They met in 1997. "She was good friends with my sister and I moved to Florida and we became friends, and a few years later we said we should be together," Johnson said.

Why marriage: "We're just solidifying what we already know," Morrison said. Making medical decisions for each other is another priority.

Kids: Three sons, 17, 20, 22.

Honeymoon: Not until their youngest son leaves for the military later this year.

Josh Solomon, Times staff

Nick Holt, 66, and Rodger Duskey, 80

Home: Tampa

How they met: In a Tampa gay bar in 1976.

Why marriage: "Protect each other, nothing else matters," Holt said.

Why Tuesday: "We didn't worry about being first, we just wanted to get it over with," Holt said.

Honeymoon: "There ain't no honeymoon after 39 years," Holt said.

Josh Solomon, Times staff

Edee Damron, 34, and Jill Weaver, 38

Home: Largo

How they met: They met eight years ago through a mutual friend. They were best friends for four years before becoming a couple.

Why marriage: They want the same rights and protections and other married couples, especially making medical decisions for each other.

Why Tuesday: "I didn't want to take the chance that in 24 hours, they change their minds," Damron said.

Why Hillsborough: "We liked the way [Pat Frank] worded things," Damron said. "She seemed more supportive than other counties, like Pasco."

Kids: They have custody of their three nephews. "I've been waiting for this my whole life," said Trey Kneuppel, 12, one of their nephews. "I think gay people should have the right to get married."

"It's cool that my aunts can get married because they're grownups and they've been wanting this for their entire lives," Kasey Knueppel, 8, said.

Josh Solomon, Times staff

Gerre Wharton, 69, and Cheryl Elwell, 51

Home: New Port Richey

How they met: At work in Pennsylvania, together 29 years

Why marriage: With marriage, "what we've had together and built together will stay that way,'' Wharton said.

Quote: "It's just unbelievable," Wharton said. "The changes in my lifetime have been unreal."

Claire McNeill, Times staff

Sue Beane, 53, and Kim Ogden, 50

Home: Port Richey

How they met: Both were teachers, and have been together 17 years

Why marriage: "It's validating and affirming," for legal rights and to ensure their young son's security.

Kids: Three grown daughters and a 5-year-old son

Claire McNeill, Times staff

Colleen Pretz, 47, and Teresa Wray, 53

Home: Port Richey

How they met: At a church dance in Tampa, together 29 years

Why marriage: "For me it's the security in knowing if something happens to one of us, the other one has legal rights. It's just the security of knowing that it's going to be okay," Wray said.

Why they were first in line at the Pasco Government Center: "This is history," Wray said. "This is a huge step. A huge step."

Kids: A 26-year-old son and three grandchildren

Claire McNeill, Times staff

Desiree Dairsaw, 44, and Diana Castaldo, 50

Home: Holiday

How they met: Both are nurses at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, have been together seven years

Why marriage: Wanted legal protections, and for Dairsaw to take Castaldo's name

Why they married in Pasco: "Initially we were thinking about going to Tampa because they weren't really on board here," Dairsaw said of the Pasco clerk's office. "But at the eleventh hour, we heard they were doing the waivers and the notaries and we thought about how important it is to be married where we live."

Kids: Three adult kids and a younger child still at home.

Claire McNeill, Times staff

Jerry Gironda, 48, and Jim Schmitt, 45.

Home: Dunedin

How they met: On Main Street in Dunedin 13 years ago.

Why marriage: So they no longer felt like ''second-class citizens." Said Schmitt: "I feel like my relationship for the past 12 years counts and it matters."

Why Tuesday: They liked that Tuesday marked Epiphany and that it was the first day possible to get married in Florida. They purchased Tungsten wedding bands Tuesday morning.

Children? Jim has three kids from his first marriage, ages 18, 15 and 14.

Katie Sanders, Times staff

Timmy King, 52, and Michael Wagoner, 44.

Home: Clearwater

How they met: Wagoner asked King how he was doing at a night club in June 2000, and King's reply was "peachy."

Why marriage: They had a commitment ceremony in 2002 at the Sawmill campground in Dade City but wanted legal rights. King said he wore a big white dress since his sister swore she never would.

Why today: They came to the clerk's office in Clearwater in jeans expecting to just pick up a license. They hadn't done the required premarital course, but a judge granted them a waiver, so they jumped at the chance to get married right away in case, they said, the ban on same-sex marriage is reinstated.

Katie Sanders, Times staff

Vickie Tanner, 57, and Ginger Chapman, 58.

Home: St. Petersburg

How they met: At a Hillsborough County club called BJ's on Jan. 24, 1986.

Why today: The Walmart employees took Tuesday off to get married at the Pinellas County courthouse in downtown Clearwater. Tanner gripped a bouquet of fake hydrangeas and roses and wore a royal purple and rhinestone dress from Macy's. Chapman wore a dark suit and purple tie from New Year's Eve 1989 (they had a picture of themselves at the party to prove it).

Plans? They want to celebrate with friends at Georgie's Alibi, where Tanner proposed to Chapman last year, and then throw a garden party.

Katie Sanders, Times staff

Chris Wittmann, 47, and Ed Rios, 48.

Home: Palm Harbor

How they met: The physician assistants' 22-year relationship started in New York City, where they met when Wittmann was a coffee shop barista and Rios was volunteering at a nearby hospital.

Why Tuesday: They picked up a license for a wedding ceremony planned for Tuesday evening at Honeymoon Island.

Katie Sanders, Times staff

Marian Goodman, 59, and Margena Hinely, 57.

Home: Clearwater

How they met: They co-chaired a transportation committee set up by the Clearwater chamber of commerce board in 1986.

Why try to be first? "We've wanted it a long time," Goodman said. They arrived at the county courthouse in downtown Clearwater a half-hour before it opened, splitting up at opposing entrances to double their chances of being the first same-sex couple married there Tuesday.

Another couple with the same strategy beat them to it, but Vanessa Lambert gave up her spot after hearing Goodman wanted to get married and not just pick up a license.

Katie Sanders, Times staff

Billy Childress Jr., 56, and Ed Humphrey, 61.

Home: Largo

How they met: New Year's Eve party

Why marriage today? Childress has liver failure and says his doctor told him to get his affairs in order. "When you've been together 33 years... I know that he's going to get everything he wants, and that's exactly how I want it," Childress said of his now-husband Humphrey. "Plus, I know he'll take care of my final wishes."

Katie Sanders, Times staff