Moments later, wearing matching black tuxes and electric blue vests, facing each other and holding hands on the courthouse steps, they were wed in a simple yet moving ceremony before about 500 enthusiastic spectators.
After Aaron and Lee spoke their vows and exchanged handmade silver rings, Rev. Steve Torrence pronounced the words that many thought they would never hear.
“By the power vested in me by the State of Florida, I do now declare that you are legally married,” the reverend said jubilantly.
The spectators, some waving signs supporting marriage equality, erupted in cheers as the new spouses embraced and kissed.
“It’s official — we’re married!” marveled Aaron just after the ceremony. “We’ve been wanting this and hoping for this for such a long time. We felt in our hearts that we had been married since our first year together, and now it’s real — in Florida!”
In July 2014, in response to the couple’s lawsuit protesting Florida’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage, Florida Keys Judge Luis Garcia issued a landmark ruling stating the ban was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
But a subsequent state appeal derailed all wedding plans — until U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida’s county court clerks could issue licenses to same-sex couples beginning at midnight Jan. 5.
There, Lee spoke about removing an unwanted and highly symbolic article of apparel — a large silver-toned bracelet that completely encircled his left wrist.
“A friend of ours gave it to me the day after we filed our lawsuit, and it’s been shackled on here ever since,” Lee explained. “I call it my shackle of inequality. Tonight at midnight, I get to take it off.”
Shortly after the ceremony, surrounded by friends and supporters on the courthouse steps, he did just that.
“I’m elated, overjoyed, that I finally am legally recognized with the man that I’ve loved for 12 years now,” said an emotional Lee.
The county clerk’s office in Key West opened at 11:30 p.m. Jan. 5 and, just after midnight, issued nine other marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While other weddings took place in the wee hours of the morning Jan. 6, Aaron and Lee’s ceremony was the first in the county and in the Florida Keys.
“Key West has been at the forefront in LGBT issues since the 80s and this is just historical,” said Aaron. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of the community.”
Key West and the Florida Keys have long been recognized as a leading destination for memorable weddings — whether traditional exchanges of vows or unique affairs including underwater ceremonies. Now, with same-sex marriage legal in Florida, the island chain is poised to welcome even more happy couples eager to wed.