Jerrod Carmichael
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What Happens in Florida…Gets Broadcast Nationwide

What Happens in Florida…Gets Broadcast Nationwide

I’m chatting with the cutest lesbian couple ever. A flirty little femme smiling from ear to ear to ear, a tuxedoed soft butch literally fawning over her. The blush of romance is upon them and even though there are literally hundreds of people around us, they both just keep staring into each other’s eyes, ready to make a personal milestone, a huge commitment, and Florida history.

They’re 22, about the same age I was the first time I married. I say first because, if you count today in Fort Lauderdale, February 5, 2015, I have now had at least six (or is it seven?) wedding ceremonies — all to the same person. This is by virtue of marrying a transgender man who thought he was a lesbian for the first 16 years of a relationship for which we met, fell in love, moved cross-country, and began seeking legal recognition all within the first six months.

Our first “private” ceremony came after we drove from New Orleans to West Hollywood and became registered domestic partners in what was the country’s first city to set up a domestic partnership registry. We had no visions then of what would happen today in Florida; there wasn’t even the language to talk about “marriage equality” then.

Yes, the transition time between our meet-cute and the legal recognition seeking was laughably best counted in weeks, not months, but we stood the test of time and now nearly a quarter century later, we’re married. Fully, totally, legally, nobody-can-take-it-away-this-time married.

After West Hollywood in 1992, we became domestic partners in Berkeley in 1993, and in 1996, San Francisco mayor Willie Brown married us in a symbolic wedding of 150 same-sex couples; he pronounced us “spouses for life” in city hall while my maid of honor and best man stood beside me beaming and CBS and CNN cameras kept rolling. (Brown said then we were on the right side of history; apparently America took 20 years to catch up.)

In 1999, California became the first state to legally recognize same-sex couples and gave us the same rights as a civil union would. Then in 2004, Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s mayor, began marrying same-sex couples just before Valentine’s Day. We rushed to city hall where volunteers were handing our bouquets that were being sent from across the country by random strangers—other LGBT folks watching history being made. It was thrilling, By August, that marriage was invalidated. Each of these events was considered or accompanied by a “wedding ceremony” for us. The biggest was in Foster City, Calif. in 2006, a vow renewal we called it, but technically, the first legal marriage the government couldn’t take away and it came about because in the fight for marriage equality we were allowed a bit of a cheat: because my co-pilot had legally become a man.

SLIDESHOW | Fort Lauderdale Group Wedding

The thing is, we’ve fought 24 years to see marriage as something that is a right available to everyone and in Ft. Lauderdale today, it is and, while equality is sweeping the nation (Florida is now just one of 37 states where you can marry today), there’s something unique to what’s happening today in Florida that make this the perfect place to marry.

Sure, this Love is Love ceremony is part marketing conceit, part real history, but no matter: It marks not just the start of marriage equality in the Sunshine State but also the beginning of wedding season, the first in our country’s history that can really be called inclusive (in many areas, at least). And this ceremony, for me, is the most touching group ceremony I’ve ever witnessed, much less taken part of, because it’s truly the first time where marriage equality is a norm. Every single wedding ceremony I’ve participated in has been with same-sex couples, never as with today in Fort Lauderdale, with both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, a notion of love as not as separate but equal but as the same fucking thing for everyone who seeks it.  

Photo Credit: Getty

There are about 100 couples here, many with family members serving as a de facto entrouge, some young newbies in the first blush of adulthood, others who have been together longer than I have been alive. The couples themselves came from all around, from nearly 20 different states and several different European and Latin American countries. Many couples are toting children (one Spanish speaking gay couple have their triplets being pulled around in little wagons by grandparents as they say their vows).

Lance Bass, that ‘N Sync boy band stalwart who still looks as attractive as he did a decade ago, is there to renew his vows with his newlywed husband Michael Turchin, himself a Florida native. Bass is the celebrity draw, sure, and the PR is timed perfectly since his E! special appears tonight (and lest you be jaded by the reality TV pimping, as shallow as it may seem, remember his is the first same-sex wedding special on television ever).

By the end of the day, I’ve had too much champagne, too many flashbulbs, and not enough of the wedding cupcakes, but I’m still marveling at what it means to marry in a group setting, one that the local officials fought to have because they have gay kids or because they know how marriage has so impacted their lives. There are Christian ministers (including a gay couple) as well a rabbi and members of other faiths officiating all at once, lending credibility to the event — this isn’t marketing, it says, this is a real wedding and you’re joining together in a partnership that we hope no man, woman or government can put asunder.

The couples here are remarkably ordinary and that’s what’s so striking about this whole thing. The people getting married aren’t the image the media has of marriage equality activists. These aren’t the Evan Wolfsons of the world.

Take Canton, Ohio’s Jerry Rizor, a man in his sixties who married his husband Jeff Davis, here because, he says, that while he’s been all over the North America and Caribbean, “Nowhere have I ever felt the gay acceptance that I have felt in Fort Lauderdale.”

I can tell you why: while Fort Lauderdale seems to have fewer trans people than some big cities, it has an extremely high proportion of LGB people and same-sex couples. It feels safe and inclusive when you’re here, and, there are hundreds of LGBT-owned and operated businesses, including hotels, bars, clubs, restaurants, and various attractions. LGBT folks are highly visible longer here, as well; few cities offer community for gays over 50 like Fort Lauderdale does.

“The ability to walk down the street holding my husband's hand and not being afraid is the thrill of a lifetime for me,” says Rizor. He reminds me that at the Love is Love ceremony, where 100 couples were married and news media was plentiful. “I was amazed and so happy to see that there was not one single protester. So there’s the proof that Fort Lauderdale is Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and family capital," he says. "As far as a wedding goes — gay or straight — what could be more romantic than a beach wedding in Fort Lauderdale?”

That’s the thing, isn’t it? That after all these years of taking whatever scraps we’ve been offered — often the best possible thing we could ever imagine, like that first domestic partnership certificate we still have framed — after all that, we’re standing here near the beach, sipping pina coladas, celebrating the wedding that millions have dreamed of: a Florida beach wedding. Gay, straight, bi, trans, cisgender, of color or lily white, if you strip away the layers and labels, and let us all marry and intermingle, and define our own rules for relationships  (because trust me honey, I’m betting Lance and I have different rules for what makes a happy marriage), isn’t it just lovely that at least in this queer mecca, a beach wedding is just a beach wedding and anyone can have that dream now?

SUGGESTIONS FOR PLANNING YOUR FORT LAUDERDALE TRIP.

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