The diamond ring Nakita Kiger gave her fiance when she proposed in December may have been more expensive than the Ring Pops they exchanged Thursday, but they held similar value.
Kiger, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry, and her fiance Lara McDermott, a senior majoring in criminology, are not permitted to obtain a marriage license under current Florida legislation, which does not allow same-sex couples to be legally bound in unions, partnerships or marriages.
However, at P.R.I.D.E. Alliance’s Freedom to Marry event on Thursday, Kiger and McDermott were one of several couples symbolically tying the knot in support of advancing marriage equality.
At the event, couples of any sexual orientation signed up to exchange pre-prepared vows from Kindell Workman, the president of P.R.I.D.E.
“The fact of the matter is that if you want to call us different under the law,” McDermott said. “(That’s) not OK with me in the least bit. I wasn’t raised to be inferior. I most certainly will not start my family, I’m not going to have kids and let them think that their moms are inferior to anyone just because we happen to be two women. It’s a matter of respect and pride and respecting ourselves. This is a really important issue to me. I’m not a second-class citizen, and I refuse to be treated as such.”
The mock marriages, conducted by Workman, were not deterred by the rain or bleak weather. The ceremony, which was originally scheduled in the Marshall Student Center (MSC )Amphitheater was moved to the MSC Royal Palm Ballroom.
“Any human can get married to any other human, anywhere on the gender or sex spectrum,” Workman said. “As long as you don’t bring your pet goldfish that’s fine. Love is love, but we don’t really recognize that kind of love.”
Despite being engaged in a state that wouldn’t recognize their marriage, Kiger and McDermott said they feel that laws shouldn’t define the parameters of their love. The couple, both Florida residents, hope to wait until marriage becomes legalized in Florida, the only state the two said they have ever known.
“It’s more of a symbol of my feelings as opposed to just the norms or laws that may prohibit it,” Kiger said. “That doesn’t prohibit me from showing her that I love her or want to marry her, even though I may not be able to now. My feelings for my fianc are no different than another woman’s feelings for her fiance just because he’s a man. It doesn’t differ. To have to go out of state (to get married) and come back to a state where it’s not recognized … that’d be like a slap in the face.”
Some at the event wedded multiple times, donning both the bridal veil and a top hat.
Wayne Gabb, a junior majoring in psychology, said he hoped that despite the silliness of some of the multiple marriages taking place, people would realize the gravity of what they symbolized.
“This event is important in that we understand that love is the most important thing in marriage,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who you love. What we’re striving for is to be equal citizens.”
Despite some states allowing unions between homosexual couples, Kiger and McDermott said they won’t settle for anything less than marriage, which is defined in Florida statute XLII Chapter 741 as a “legal union between a man and a woman.”
“No one says, ‘Oh I can’t wait to be civil union-ed,'” McDermott said. “It’s ridiculous. Kids grow up with the word ‘marriage’ and ‘weddings’ and all these other things. To say that you know, ‘Oh you can have a part of it, but not really … you can have the decaf, you can have the light’ … No. I’m getting what’s the same … and the fact of the matter is that my feelings for my fiance aren’t going to change you or how you feel about me in any way, shape or form. They’re not going to change how you feel about any other person.
“The fact of the matter is that this is America, and we have liberties. We have rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Megan Pugh, a graduate student majoring in communications, works in the Office of Multicultural Affairs and conducts Safe Zone trainings, a program for allies who hope to support and advocate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights across campus. She said the Freedom to Marry event is particularly meaningful in light of a year of milestone steps for LGBTQ rights, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the It Gets Better Project, a LGBTQ support program,and the overturning of the ban on gay adoption in Florida.
“This is about freedom for all, not just about gay marriage equality,” she said. “This is the generation for (the allowance of same-sex marriage) to happen. We don’t think of sex or sexual orientation in as much of a dichotomy: gay or straight, black or white.”
As Kiger and McDermott slipped Ring Pops over their engagement rings and exchanged vows under the USF emblem adorning the Ballroom wall, they said they hoped it didn’t “jinx” the possibility of a real life marriage.
“We hope everyone who’s heterosexual is just as in love as we are,” McDermott said. “We wouldn’t know.”