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Wedding Bells Ring for Same-Sex Couples

Robin Sussingham

Tuesday marked the first day in Florida history that same sex couples were able to legally marry. To mark the occasion, Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank held a group wedding at a park across the street from the courthouse. Some of the couples had waited decades for this.

The church bells rang out near the Joe Chillura courthouse square. The sun was shining and at noon Pat Frank took the podium in front of 20 or 30 same sex couples - plus a throng of reporters and well-wishers.

"Are you ready? After how many years?," Frank asked the crowd. "Thirty-nine? 43? 23. Well you've waited a long enough time and that's why I waived the three day waiting period this week."

Normally, it takes three days after you apply before you can receive a marriage license. Frank explained to the crowd that she was not a judge, but wore the robes of her late husband, Richard Frank.

"Frank fought for justice all his life," she says. "We were married for 61 years. I'm wearing these for him."

She asked the group to recite the pledge of allegiance, "because the judicial system does its job right and we want to honor equality and justice."

She then performed the ceremony:

"With his ring, I thee wed."

A federal judge recently overturned Florida's ban on same sex marriage. While the state appealed the ruling, he had stayed his decision. But that stay ended  at midnight Monday night. Some clerks began issuing licenses in the middle of the night -- others, like Frank, waited until the office opened at 8 am.

"... by virtue of the authority vested in me, under the laws of the state of Florida, I now pronounce you joined in matrimony."

Applause rang out.

Nick Holt and Rod Duskey got their marriage license earlier, and then waited to be married at the ceremony in the park.

Duskey said it was a wonderful event.

"I never thought I'd live to see it, in all my 80 years."

They've been together for 39 years.

"(Why get married?)  We want to be able to watch out for each other," he said.

Duskey said the legal standing that marriage provided was vital.

"Today, it is so wonderful to be in the city that I was born and be an equal citizen, and not feel like a second class citizen." - Alberto Molina-Coats

"You wouldn't believe the horror stories... that some gays could tell about having your lover at the hospital and not being able to do a damn thing about it, when it comes to decision making."

Glenn and Alberto Molina-Coats have dressed for the occasion in matching checked shirts, black vests and bright blue ties. Alberto wears a gold watch.

"We thought it was a momentous occasion and we should honor it by wearing something," Molina-Coats said. "I'm wearing my grandfather's wedding watch that my father lent to me for today's occasion."

When asked if his family's is behind him, Molina-Coats says, "Absolutely. Our family has always considered us spouses and husbands. it's just now a legal recognizing of it."

Molina-Coats says he's seen Tampa change over the years.

"Today, it is so wonderful to be in the city that I was born and be an equal citizen," he says, "and not feel like a second class citizen."

Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
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