Pam Bondi compared to Disney's Cruella De Vil in wedding ceremony for gay couples

Published Feb. 22, 2015

MIAMI BEACH — With a mix of elegance and irreverence, only celebrity chef Art Smith could round up his famous chef buddies, a sea of white orchids and a drag queen DJ to pull off a wedding ceremony Saturday for over two dozen same-sex couples on Miami Beach.

Smith, a Florida native and former chef to Oprah Winfrey and Gov. Bob Graham, is revered by fellow chefs and those in the gay and lesbian community, known as the chef with a big Southern accent and an even bigger heart.

When Smith heard that Florida judges had lifted the state's ban on same-sex marriage last month, he set out to throw an over-the-top wedding officiated by chef Guy Fieri, with a stunning cake from Duff Goldman and a dance party spun by local star Chi Chi LaRue. He invited the first 101 couples to participate in the free wedding, noting he chose the number after the movie 101 Dalmatians to shame Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has ardently fought to keep same-sex marriage from becoming legal.

"We have our own Cruella De Vil, Pam Bondi. She was determined that she was going to prevent equality from coming to Florida," Smith said.

"For a state known for sunshine, it was living in the darkness when it came to LGBT rights, and it was important to acknowledge that."

South Beach is also memorable to Smith because he met his partner, Jesus Salgueiro, here 15 years ago while in town with Winfrey.

Nicole Griffin, 43, and Stephanie Swanson, 42, had been waiting a few years to say "I do." The Tampa couple moved from Indiana shortly before gay marriage became legal there. Friends flew in from California and Indianapolis to see the women, both wearing elegant white gowns, get married Saturday.

"(Pam Bondi) fought so hard. She denied us for so long . . . I think our presence today and being able to do this is a defeat of that mentality," Swanson said.

Bondi is appealing the rulings, and some county officials in more-conservative areas have stopped performing marriage ceremonies altogether.

The couples were showered with white rose petals thrown from the balconies and then treated to a feast of fried chicken, grilled lamb, crab-stuffed avocadoes, empanadas, and a seven-tier gold and silver cake from Goldman, star of Food Network's reality show Ace of Cakes.