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Florida recognized marriage equality 5 years ago today

“It’s important to not be a second-class citizen,” one newlywed told the Times.
Virginia and Marrekia Jeffries of Foley, Ala., marry at the M.C. Blanchard Judicial Building in Pensacola on Jan. 6, 2015. In attendance was their niece, Tia'Miya Robinson, then 3 years old. The state of Florida recognized same-sex unions on Jan. 6, 2015, drawing couples from nearby as well as Floridian newlyweds. [EVE EDELHEIT | Tampa Bay Times]

It’s now been five years since history was made and same-sex marriage became legal in Florida.

In August 2014, a federal judge in Tallahassee ruled Florida’s 2008 voter-approved ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. But the decision wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 6, leaving time for appeals.

Related: A historic day in Florida as gay weddings begin

Then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi fought to stop the change, trying to get the court to uphold the 2008 ban and block the marriages. She even tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Ultimately, she was unsuccessful.

The monumental milestone for LGBTQ rights in Florida was solidified on Jan. 6, 2015. Couples would finally be allowed to wed.

Stacey Rollins, 43, left, and Lori Lynn, 50, right, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., take a selfie after they were married during a group wedding ceremony at a hotel in honor of Florida's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage equality, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015. [AP]

Reports estimated over 1,200 couples exercised their new right on that first day. In Hillsborough, 160 marriage licenses were issued — twice as many as the clerk filed on Valentine’s Day the year prior. There were 106 same-day ceremonies, including a mass wedding held at Tampa’s Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park.

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

Pinellas issued 67 licenses and had 24 ceremonies that day. Reports from that day were full of ecstatic quotes from newlyweds.

“I get to say ‘wifey.’ I’ve been calling her ‘my wifey’ all these years,” said Jennifer Hasbrook, who was first in line to marry Kellie Peterson in St. Petersburg. “I know that sounds ridiculous, but these things sometimes are more important than you can imagine.”

At the Pinellas courthouse in Clearwater, snowbirds referring to themselves as “Canadian cheerleaders” applauded newlyweds. Marian Goodman and Margena Hinely wed there after being together for 28 years and 74 days.

“It’s important to not be a second-class citizen,” Goodman said.

Jessica Dunnam, left, and Charlene Emm, right, show off their wedding rings before a group wedding ceremony at a hotel in honor of Florida's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage equality, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. [AP]

Hernando issued 14 licenses and saw 8 ceremonies. Gary Sechen and Wynn Miller of Brooksville were excited to finally marry after dating since the 1980s, when they met working on an AIDS hotline in New York City.

“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," Miller told a Times reporter.

They did not have honeymoon plans.

“Every day is a honeymoon,” Miller said.

Related: What does the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling mean for Florida?

The county clerk in Pasco issued 25 licenses, but Pasco’s clerk Paula O’Neil refused to perform any marriages in her office. She stated her reasons as partially financial, but told the Times many of her employees who deal with marriage licenses would feel “uncomfortable” officiating same-sex weddings.

The decision prompted Sue Beane and Kim Ogden to wed in a field behind the West Pasco Government Center. The couple had been together for 17 years and were joined by their Andrew, who was 5 at the time.

“We were a family before,” Beane told a reporter. “but now we’re legal.”

Deidra Navarro, 28, and Brittany Stanley, 25, both from St. Petersburg, were part of the first 50 people married in St. Petersburg after gay marriage was legalized. Both attended the St. Pete Pride celebrations on June 23, 2018. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Tampa Bay Times]

Less than two weeks later, on Jan. 16, the Supreme Court announced it would hear Obergefell vs. Hodges, a combination of six lower-court cases from a handful of states, including the case of James Obergefell, who couldn’t obtain a marriage license in Ohio to wed his terminally ill partner.

The Court’s 5-4 vote in June required every state to license and recognize marriages for same-sex couples, declaring gay marriage bans were unconstitutional.

Five years later, LGBTQ rights continue to be a hotly contested issue. Floridians can still be fired, or not hired, for being gay, bisexual or transgender. Florida lawmakers will vote on an anti-LGBTQ discrimination bill this year.

Information from Times archives was used in this story.

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