When Paola Aguirre imagined her wedding day, she didn’t think it would take place in a house she had never stepped foot in.

Because of Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, Aguirre and her partner, Lorna Bracewell, were forced to travel elsewhere to tie the knot. 

The couple packed into a car with Bracewell’s parents and a pastor and drove to Illinois, where their relationship received legal recognition. 

“It kind of felt like we were kids sneaking off to do something wrong,” Aguirre, a 29-year-old teacher at The One Room School House Project, said. 

When a judge in Florida overturned the state’s ban in Monroe County last Thursday, allowing legal marriages to begin today, Aguirre was overcome with joy. Florida is one of 31 states that currently bans same-sex marriage.

“A wedding is about being socially recognized as a couple and having people you love support your relationship,” Aguirre said. “Our situation isn’t unique.”

“The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority,” Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia wrote in his opinion.

Not everyone was happy about the ruling.

Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an appeal almost immediately after, putting Garcia’s ruling on hold. 

“The fundamental argument of our brief is that the voters had the right (in 2008) to adopt this definition of marriage (between a man and a woman), just as they have the right in the future to change their minds and afford legal recognition to same-sex marriage, should they so choose,” Bondi said in a statement released by her office. 

“As attorney general, it’s her job to defend the Florida Constitution,” said Kailyn Allen, chair woman of the UF College Republicans chapter. 

As of Monday morning, Judge Garcia denied an emergency motion to lift the stay filed by the original lawyers behind the Monroe County lawsuit, which would have allowed marriages to take place until the appeal was dealt with. 

Joseph Jackson, a legal skills professor at Levin College of Law, expects the case could go to the Florida Supreme Court for a more definitive decision that would apply statewide. Jackson referenced similar cases in other states such as Utah and Oklahoma, which are pending in the U.S Supreme Court. 

"Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. United States, it has been consistently concluded that same-sex marriage has to be allowed as a matter of U.S. constitutional law," he said.

Despite the uncertainty of what will happen next, Garcia’s ruling triggered a wave of celebration in Gainesville. 

Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.

At an event organized by the United Church of Gainesville that same day, several gathered to receive the news with excitement, champagne and cake that read “love wins.”

Mallory Garner-Wells, public policy director of Equality Florida, an organization that advocates for gay and lesbian rights and leads a North Florida lawsuit for gay marriage, said at the event that Garcia’s decision was a “really good first step.”

“This ruling sends a strong message that judges here have come to the same conclusion that judges have ruled in other states: that marriage equality needs to be the law of the land,” Garner-Wells said. 

As for the appeal, Garner-Wells said Bondi will “have to stand in court knowing that she’s not on the right side of history.”

Terry Fleming, co-president of the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida, spoke about what struck him most regarding the text of Garcia’s ruling: the sweeping nature of the language and the tie-in to historic cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson.

“All of these were extremely important cases in the advancement of human rights,” Fleming, 53, said. “If that doesn’t make the hair on your arms rise, I don’t know what will.”

Jackie Davis, former chairwoman of the United Church of Gainesville's Open and Affirming Ministry committee, is waiting for the day marriage equality rights are given in Florida.
"I never thought I'd see gay marriage become legal in my lifetime," Davis said, with tears welling in her eyes. "At the end of the day, it's just love."

[A version of this story ran on page 11 on 7/22/2014 under the headline "Senate seat unanimously appointed"]