Gay marriage in Key West: Time to book the venue

Probably not time to order the cake or get those wedding attire alterations done, but if you’re a-hankering for a gussied up Key West wedding, you’d better book the venue.

On Thursday, 16th District Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia pulled the first thread that will unravel the Florida straight jacket prohibiting marriage equality. Garcia overturned the state’s 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Despite what likely will be months of stonewalling appeals by state Attorney General Pam Biondi, Garcia’s decision is the precursor for similar decisions to be handed down around the state.

The wedding bells are inevitable, which is why you better book that Key West venue now. Yeah, you can do the nuptials on Smathers Beach or South Beach pretty much anytime. You can stop by the clerk’s office. Heck, you could ask me. In Florida, notaries can perform the ceremony and I’ve got my seal.

If you’re thinking romantic and myriad attendants, though, time’s a-wasting. Those exclusive venues go fast.

Garcia’s decision is going to be most excellent for Key West’s economy. The island’s decades-long libertarian (little “l;” not caps) history of live and let live and its powerful local gay and lesbian communities have made Key West a safe, accommodating and supportive destination for same sex couples — whether for a week, a month or a lifetime.

Key West is a straight wedding mecca, and it doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to know there’s not going to be much better than a same-sex wedding celebration in Key West. Ka-ching for everything from wedding planners and upscale clothing retailers to sunset cruises, bars and restaurants. The allure of a Key West wedding — gay and straight — is simply too good to pass up.

Garcia did not, of course, tailor his ruling because of the economics. His ruling was, simply, the right thing to do and he explained himself in this excerpt from his written decision:

“This 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 the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority. … the Constitution protects all of its citizens from governmental interference with those rights. All laws passed whether by the legislature or by popular support must pass the scrutiny of the United States Constitution; to do otherwise diminishes the Constitution to just a historical piece of paper.”

Garcia said weddings should begin in Key West on Tuesday, giving the clerk’s office time to prepare for long lines. That’s not going to happen next week because Biondi has already made her appeal. Whether it’s Tuesday or the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the clerk’s office will be handing out marriage licenses.

Monroe County, home to Key West, did not support Florida’s 2008 state Constitutional amendment. No real surprise there, and it’s fitting that the first ruling overturning that decision came because two Key West men asked for a marriage license. After being together for 11 years, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones figured a wedding ring was appropriate. And, their 11-year-partnership sure seems more stable than Biondi’s three marriages.

But, I digress to politics and that’s not at all what Garcia’s ruling is about. Garcia — and dozens of state court judges around the country — understand what the U.S. Supreme Court meant when it issued a similar decision on a federal level. The Supremes left the state decisions to the states, and those state court judges are following suit.

Garcia ensured that in Monroe County, in Key West, and eventually throughout Florida, the right things are getting done.

Linda Grist Cunningham is owner and editor of KeyWestWatch Media, a project management company in Key West. She is a veteran journalist with more than 40 years in the print and digital media industry.