Cars lined the streets Tuesday night as more than a hundred people entered Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa to celebrate legalized same-sex marriage that had been made official in Florida fewer than 24 hours before.
Those celebrating the historic day were of all ages, ethnicities, genders and sexualities. Some were USF students.
“This is the recognition that we are people too,” said Jordan Stafford, a senior majoring in political science. “We’re no longer second class citizens who were told their whole life by the state that they weren’t worthy of love.”
Though the fight over gay marriage spent years in and out of courtrooms, with significant push back from conservatives, it wasn’t until Jan. 2 that a federal district judge broke the last levy.
As soon as the clock struck midnight Monday, thousands of couples began to wait outside courthouses across the state as Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Photographs of the newly-weds outside the Hillsborough County courthouse were showcased on a slideshow in the main hall of the church, underneath three banners that read “peace,” “joy” and “love.”
“We’re all here to celebrate this joyous and long-awaited occasion,” said Valerie Vana, a senior majoring in advertising. “I look around and see all these smiles. The only words I can think to describe it are ‘happy’ and ‘genuine.’”
People hugged and laughed over a guitarist who sang a chorus of “I thought love was only true in fairytales.”
The music and the crowd fell quiet for a moment as Sally Phillips, the president of the GLBT Democratic Caucus, took the floor with a microphone.
“What a glorious day,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d ever thought this would happen in my lifetime … we are now treated just as others are.”
Stafford credited the rise of social media for this generation’s civil rights momentum by giving understanding to what was once considered out of the norm.
He further added that laws typically reflect the evolving morals of culture, so he had thought it was only a matter of time before gay marriage happened.
Legalized same-sex marriage became conceivable in the summer of 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This gave Florida activists a chance to undo the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
Last August, a state district court found the ban unconstitutional. When the opposition failed to overturn this ruling before Jan. 6, a Miami judge oversaw the state’s first legally recognized same-sex marriage.
“Judges are subject to the wants of society,” Stafford said. “It may take forever, but courts end on the right of history.”
Phillips said the struggle for equality actually lasted much longer than 18 months, as non-traditional couples have faced discrimination throughout history.
The symbolism of the celebration held at a church was not lost. Not only were Florida churches barred from wedding gay couples, but religion was also used as an argument as to why marriage should be kept between a man and a woman.
“Just as the state has said we accept you, this church has now said it accepts us,” Stafford said.
Not a single protester could be seen outside the church during the event.
However, Phillips said the fight for acceptance is not over until it’s legal for all couples to marry in all states and it’s illegal for employers to fire employees for being gay in Florida.
“Our job is not done,” she said. “But today, we celebrate.”