Michele Villa and Dawn Wilcox have been together for 23 years. They’ve raised three children together and have six grandchildren. In each other’s eyes and the eyes of their family, they’ve been married all these years. But it wasn’t until shortly after 9 this morning that they were finally rid of the state prejudice—enshrined in one of Florida’s most bigoted constitutional amendments since 2008—that prevented their marriage and their right to be each other’s beneficiaries from being recognized by law.
Villa and Wilcox walked into the recording office at the Flagler County Courthouse and became the third couple in Flagler this morning to fill out a same-sex marriage application, joining hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gay, lesbian and transgender couples across the state who did likewise on the first day legalized gay marriage. Villa and Wilcox, who were joined by one of their daughters and a grandchild, then stepped outside for photographs. They’ll be back at the courthouse Friday, once the normal 72-hour waiting period has elapsed, to be married in earnest.
Two couples they knew got their license just before them: Mercedes Hall and Corah Raulerson, both 23, who were actually the very first same-sex couple to break the barrier in Flagler, followed by Maria Zavala, 72, and Cheryl Petersen, 50. Later in the day, a fourth couple got a license as well, and more were expected.
“That to me is amazing because we’re actually part of a major piece of what is going to be major history in years to come,” Villa said, “when they look back, when schools look back and the government looks back, it’s going to be a day written in history.”
“That really isn’t a big deal, it should have been this way all along,” Wilcox said. She and Villa work at Walmart, where their status has never been an issue, and where the company a couple of years ago started providing same-sex insurance benefits.
“I always take pride in the fact that I have three highs school diplomas,” Villa said, referring to her three children’s schooling, “they all have jobs, they’re all gainfully employed, I’d say for a lesbian couple we’ve done rather well. We’ve been together 23 years, that outlasts a lot. So I don’t see any difference.”
“We never have,” Wilcox said.
But others have, and continue to.
“We’re still frowned upon. We can walk anywhere and hold hands and you still get looks,” Wilcox says.
“That was one of the comments that I actually read this morning,” Villa said, “was, ‘as long as they don’t flaunt it out in public, I don’t see a problem with it,’ but yet we have to accept heterosexuals flaunting it out in public, whether it’s having sex in public parks or wherever, all over each other in stores, walking down the aisles, hugging, and yet we get frowned upon just for holding hands.”
The couple’s daughter, Ariana Butkiewicz, there with her 4-year-old son Ethan, said from experience that it’ll be a while before acceptance is routine enough to be unremarkable. “Interracial couples are still being judged,” Butkiewicz I’m an interracial couple, my husband is white, we get looked at, so I feel that, I’ve always felt that. It takes time. It’ll start to lessen, but it’ll still always be there, just like racism, unfortunately. There’s people stuck in their ways and that’s it.”
“I’m not a political person,” Villa said, “but you know, right wings and whoever these people are, religious people who are just stuck, they’re just not going to no matter what, and then you’re going to have the rest of them who are not even going to know who’s gay and who’s not technically, and who are not even going to give it a second thought.”
Same-sex marriage is now legal in all but a handful of states, among them Georgia and Alabama, the Dakotas and Nebraska. In all other states, it is either legal or, in nine states’ cases, awaiting court review. (See the map below illustrating the breakdown.)
The end of the ban on marriage equality in Florida is the result of an Aug. 21 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle finding the marriage ban unconstitutional in two cases: one brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida on behalf of eight married same-sex couples, a Fort Myers widow, and SAVE, South Florida’s largest LGBT rights organization; the other by Jacksonville attorneys William Sheppard and Sam Jacobson on behalf of two couples. A temporary stay on that ruling expired at the end of the day on Monday, though Miami-Dade issued marriage licenses starting Monday.
As circuit judge Sarah Zabel lifted the stay on her ruling in a case in which six same-sex couples and the Equality Florida Institute, represented by attorneys for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and several attorneys in private practice, challenged the marriage ban. Judge Zabel lifted the stay following a motion by Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Rubin in response to Judge Hinkle’s order.
“Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts,” Hinkle wrote in August. “Those who enter opposite-sex marriages are harmed not at all when others, including these plaintiffs, are given the liberty to choose their own life partners and are shown the respect that comes with formal marriage.”
While clerks in all 67 Florida counties were issuing licenses today, clerks in several of those counties, including Duval, Baker, Clay, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa, said they would no longer perform marriage ceremonies, as clerks and their deputies often do, at the courthouse. The refusal is a reflection of some of the enduring prejudice against same-sex couples.
“I’m disappointed,” Flagler County Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth said of the decisions in those counties. “But in the autonomy of a clerk, they have choices to make too, and possibly, their community won’t accept it. I haven’t gotten any negatives since you published the article, not one word.”
Wadsworth and her deputies will be gladly performing ceremonies starting Friday. Wadsworth herself will perform the first two, and won’t perform more of them only because she has to drive to Lakeland for a funeral service later that day.
Tuesday was “calm, very calm, very teary on some parts” at the courthouse, Wadsworth said. The majority of the questions by phone have been about Flagler’s recognition of same-sex marriages in other states or other countries (they’re recognized, as long as documentation is provided), and whether the clerk can also issue a divorce to same-sex couples. On that one, Wadsworth isn’t yet sure but will be soon. But the clerk will not reject marrying couples a second time, if they’ve been married in another state or another country before and still wish to be married in Flagler.
Wilcox is from Connecticut, Villa is from New York. Friends and family would tell them in the past to go get married there. “But we wanted to do it here,” Wilcox says. “This is where we live.”
Dawn? “It’s where we’ve paid our taxes, it’s where we’ve raised our kids, our grandkids.”
“It’s your home,” Ariana chimes in.
“I never expected to see it in my lifetime in this state. I really didn’t,” Villa said.
“I thought it was going to be the last one. Really,” Wilcox said, referring to Florida’s historically laggard status in civil rights.
Wadsworth called it a historic day for Flagler, “and for Florida. We opened a door. Judge Hinkle opened a door in Florida for people to be who they are. We opened a door how many years ago for interracial marriages. We opened a door a long, long time ago for women to have the right to vote. This is one of those days.”
Same-sex Marriage Ceremony at Flagler Courthouse
It’s too bad this is a remarkable event. But I’m very glad it’s happening. Mazel Tov to all the nearly and newlyweds!
Brian Curbow says
Congratulations to Dawn and Michelle! I wish you both the best! You guys rock!
Wonderful article. Good for you Gail for representing and upholding the feelings of most
Floridians in joining Flagler County with the rest of the majority of citizens in this great nation.
Bob Cuff says
Ah yes, it’s official: anyone who disagrees with gay marriage, regardless of reasoning, must be prejudiced, just as anyone who opposes illegal immigration must be a hater, bigot or racist. The liberals are only liberals as long as no one else takes the liberty (root word of liberal) to disagree. They are champions of diversity, as long as it does not extend to diversity of opinion, particularly of those who do not share their own. The problem I have with this is that they have taken the laws of God out of the law of the land and successfully replaced it with the opinions of professors of concentration camps of supposed higher learning called universities and the products thereof. Jesus didn’t say, “These rules are valid only as long as they are not too inconvenient to abide by, or President Obama changes his mind,” (not that anyone should believe he ever disagreed with gay marriage just because he said so.) So I will stick with my beliefs that have worked for 2000 years in spite of the ridicule and vile comments that are sure to come from the ever so receptive minds of those who claim intellectual superiority over the unwashed masses, of which I am certainly a member. I would add that there is a danger in replacing God’s law with mankind’s opinion of what should be: there are some who believe it is perfectly acceptable for a 50 year old man to take an 8 year old girl as his “bride.” Apparently, this is a fairly widespread belief in certain parts of the world. Another aspect to the issue is it appears to be part of an overall effort by a few to undermine not only Christianity, but the Constitution as well. Gay marriage was not allowed by the legislative process; in fact the legislature is being run over by an overreaching executive and judicial branch. On this issue, the executive branch unilaterally decided to not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, while the judiciary seemed to simultaneously, interestingly enough decide that barring gay marriage was unconstitutional. Couple this with the overall actions of the President on immigration and it is quite apparent the left is trying to undermine the foundations of this country, ever so incrementally.
John Smallberries says
No one is forcing you to be gay.
No one is forcing you to marry someone that is gay.
No one is forcing you to attend state colleges, universities, or schools.
No one is forcing you to renounce your faith.
Agreed on all points……so………?
The problem with enacting the laws of God as part of the laws of the nation is that not all members of the nation follow the same god. Would you feel uncomfortable if Islamic sharia law was the law of the land? Many Christians do, so they attempt to prevent those religious laws from being instituted. But they think nothing of enacting their own…
That is how followers of other faiths, like Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism, would feel about Christian law being part of the land. Your God may be your God, but He is not everyone’s. Please treat others with the compassion that your God asked you to.
Personally, as long as someone else’s marriage does not render my own invalid, I don’t mind that other people have the chance. I don’t have to approve of what someone does to think they should be allowed to do it.
And I agree with your last paragraph; my problem is that the headline insinuates anyone with a differing opinion is prejudiced.
I interpreted the headline as referring to legal prejudice. The law prevented this before and discriminated against this group, and now that has changed.
Oh……well, never mind then. ;)
Amen to that!!!!! If we believers are called the bigots and prejudice WHAT do we call them because we are not jumping off the bridge …we will stand by our Faith and continue to be Persecuted for it …Our children aren’t safe from this either since they are teaching this Lifestyle in the Public schools…! Send your kids to private or home school…since WE aren’t allowed to have an opinion !
I live in America where, thankfully, the law of the land has nothing to do with any deity thanks to the First Amendment.
And if you did the smallest amount of research on the founding fathers, you would quickly realize you are kidding yourself.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes the wisest rules for just conduct in every situation of life. Happy they who are enabled to obey them in all situations!” – Benjamin Rush – signer of the Constitution.
Benjamin Rush was only one foe 56 signers of the Declaration. Other signers might have had other opinions.
True. Also true is that 24 of the 56 signers held seminary or Bible school degrees.
“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
–The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.
“The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young Men United, and which had United all Parties in America, in Majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence.” –Adams wrote this on June 28, 1813, excerpt from a letter to Thomas Jefferson.
“I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”
–The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 385.
Same sex couples want to marry so they can have the same “privileges and rights” of a married heterosexual couple. When it comes to some of them divorcing, do they have the same “obligations” of a heterosexual couple when it comes to splitting assets, money and all those issues that enter into a divorce agreement? I certainly hope so, fair is fair.
There are people living together that aren’t married, and each partner has papers drawn up that state they can visit in the hospital, make decisions for the other when it’s necessary, buy homes together, provide for each other in wills, etc. Unless they take out joint loans, etc. neither one is held responsible for the other’s debt, if any is accrued, can have their own credit rating and more control over their life. If the relationship breaks up, then the couple can split without any legal consequences, except if they buy property together, then they have to decide whether to sell or keep it.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the issue and I guess everyone is entitled to choose which suits them best.
This ‘lifestyle’ isnt taught….
Just like your ‘lifestyle’ isn’t taught.
People are who they are and will be who they have always been. Private schools are where majority of the straight population explores their gay curiosity ;)
Youre allowed to have an opinion, what you’re not allowed to do is think everyone should live by it. People like this blow my mind. Us open minded people who are only concerned with our own lives and dont wish to control other’s lives are not one bit interested in saying what anyone does is wrong as far as ‘lifestyle’ but here you guys are..so righteous and above everyone with your religions and opinions, you’re the first to point fingers.
To the comment pertaining to same sex couples getting divorced, one word…equality. we are people, our lives come with good and bad just like everyone else. The goal is equality so why would divorce be any different ? Same sex marriage is marriage, same sex divorce is divorce. ‘Same sex____’ should not even be a phrase, when that phrase is erased that’s when true equality will exist.