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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Cheers erupted in the chilly air as the Alachua County Courthouse’s doors opened shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Same-sex couples rushed through the metal detectors with bright smiles and joyful tears.

Steve Allegra, 63, and partner-of-24-years John Anderson, 68, were the first couple to be married in Gainesville — the time on their marriage license was stamped at 8:33 a.m.

“We didn’t even get there early on purpose,” Allegra said, “It just happened that way.” The couple was most eager to finally receive the legal protection guaranteed to married people under the law.

“We’ve spent thousands of dollars getting legal documentation that some people might not have even paid attention to,” Anderson said. “The legal protection is so important.”

The couple met when Allegra was looking for a job. Anderson worked for a job service, and they started dating soon after they met. Allegra got the job, by the way.

Quintyra White, 24, and her partner of six years, Lakindra Ellis, 34, held hands and leaned on one another as they patiently waited to apply for their marriage license.

White said it felt surreal to finally apply.

“This is just a paper,” she said. “In our hearts we’re already married.”

Ellis said her family was not accepting of her relationship with White, but through misty eyes she said her relationship with White was worth the pain.

“At the end of the day, I come home to her, and she comes home to me. And that’s what matters,” she said.

Among the sea of same-sex couples were childhood friends Joleen Atwood and Crystal Kelly.

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Kelly, 34, and Atwood, 35, were best friends in high school and began dating after college. The couple has been together for 14 years and has a 3-year-old adopted daughter named Amelia.

“We’re a real family just like any other family,” Kelly said.

Atwood said they decided not to bring their daughter because they were unsure of what the atmosphere would be like at the courthouse.

With the marriage license, Atwood will finally be able to officially adopt Amelia.

“(The marriage license) is validation that our lives matter,” she said.

Outside of the courthouse, United Church of Gainesville performed seven marriages, said senior minister Shelly Wilson.

UCG offered a pre-marital counseling class on Saturday so couples could waive the three-day waiting period. Wilson said 14 couples took the class and the church has already received five reservations to perform marriage ceremonies.

“We believe all people have the right to marry the person they love,” she said.

Later that night, the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida held a celebration, and several couples who were married that day were present, including Allegra and Anderson. Everyone mingled with friends and drank champagne and wine out of clear plastic glasses under silver and blue streamers draped from the ceiling.  

“It’s been such a long time coming,” said Linda Bassham, co-president of the  center. She and her partner, Janet Woods, were married earlier Tuesday. They had a civil union in Vermont in 2003, but had been seeing each other for a few years before then. Friends since 1991, they met while both members of the National Organization for Women.

“There’s a number of people here who are not LGBT members of the community, but they are supportive,, and they are here to celebrate with us because they are happy for us,” she said. “To me it’s a very important thing to have community support.”

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 1/7/2015 under the headline "Florida says 'I Do'"]

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