Norm Kent

Juror's Verdict Is for Marriage Equality

Filed By Norm Kent | January 08, 2015 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Florida, full circle, gay marriage, marriage equality, same-sex marriage

norm-kent-jury-room-marriage.jpgI have never seen so many people this happy in a jury room, but that is where close to 100 same-sex couples and 300 people gathered at midnight on Tuesday, January 6, in the Broward County Courthouse. We were not alone. Across the state, at varying hours of the day, clerks were issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

You can't appreciate where you are in life without remembering where you have been: Florida is the state that gave birth to Anita Bryant in 1977. Florida is the state that voted to ban same-sex marriage less than ten years ago. Florida is a state where both the governor and the attorney general still oppose us, and went to court to stop us less than ten days ago.

This time, equality and justice were on our side.

There are groups still opposing us, with names like the Florida Family Council. Watching their spokespersons make their case on TV, you almost have to scoff. They have become so historically irrelevant they are laughable. Even Jeb Bush, as he prepares for a presidential run, is changing his tune. He is smart enough to know his past opposition to same-sex couples is a shackle to his future goals.

However, Florida still has a ways to go, doesn't it? Clerks in Duval, Clay, Baker and other counties have stopped performing courthouse weddings, all citing conservative values and opposition to marriage equality as part of the reason why. The only way clerks could avoid officiating same-sex wedding ceremonies is if they stop performing courthouse weddings all together.

While those clerks may seem far away even right here in Fort Lauderdale, our own Mayor, Jack Seiler, opposed the city's resolution supporting marriage equality just a few months ago. We must be ever vigilant.

It's so sad. It is 2015. They are living in a Sadie Hawkins world still celebrating Anita Bryant Day. That is too bad for them, but worse for their kids. Someday they will get over it. Someday we shall overcome. But that means we still have work to do.

To those who are late in joining us in our battle for equality, we should simply say 'welcome to the party. Nice to have you here.' We can be proud this day has come, prouder still that so many have journeyed so far to see it through.

Out from the shadows, the love that once dared not speak its name now has a state license and social acceptance. If only we had a governor who could tell his clerks to obey the law instead of avoid it. If only we had an attorney general that sued for us instead of against us.

Nevertheless, we owe thanks and gratitude to those who put themselves in the front lines, went to court, and challenged the status quo. In the beginning days of the battle for marriage equality, even a host of LGBT leaders were timid, warning foolishly that we were 'moving too fast.'

florida-gay-flag.jpgNo, today's message is a reminder that it is never too soon to fight for your rights. In fact, the best way to protect your rights is to use them.

In Broward, as gay couples married in a jury room we all normally want to escape from, Sheriff Scott Israel took the stage. The chief law enforcement official in the county, he congratulated not only all the couples joining in matrimony, but a host of his own gay deputies tying the knot themselves. He hugged them, smiled with them, and congratulated them. "The police in our agency are your partners," he said.

He gets it. There is a new world out there. Hopefully, we will never forget what the old one was like.

One of the women marrying her partner in Broward County was a local attorney, Robin L. Bodiford. A native Floridian and 1988 graduate of the University of Southern California Law School, she was the co-author of the Broward County Domestic Partnership Ordinance, a lesbian civil rights pioneer for this community. Still practicing law in greater Fort Lauderdale, her achievements in excellence over a lifetime make her a person to applaud and celebrate today.

Every community has had its share of heroes. In Dade County, there was a woman named Ruth Shack who pushed equal rights for gays and lesbians in the 1970s. In Palm Beach, attorneys like Rand Hoch have been fighting for decades. In Broward, Jamie Bloodworth, who passed away ten years ago this month, would be smiling with her partner Beverly Cothern today.

In each community, we have had men and women leading and attempting to make a difference in all our lives. Tuesday, as clerks from Key West to Kissimmee issued same-sex marriage licenses, we all had a reason to celebrate and appreciate what those who came before us have done.

Originally published by the South Florida Gay News.

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