© 2022 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Despite Key West's Gay-Friendly History, Gay Marriage Took This Long

Credit Nancy Klingener

  It only took a few hours for the state Attorney General’s office to appeal Thursday’s Monroe County ruling declaring Florida’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional. The appeal means any marriage licenses for gay couples are put on hold.

But Key Westers have been celebrating the decision anyway, calling it a milestone for the island city.

Key West has long had an openly gay community. The city elected a gay mayor more than 30 years ago, and both the city and county governments offer benefits for same-sex couples.

But Key West has not been on the national forefront when it comes to gay marriage. Many locals – like longtime resident Tom Luna -- point to the same reason.

“Well, it’s Florida, you know,” Luna says. “I’m surprised it came up so quickly. I thought we’d be 49th, right before Louisiana or Mississippi.”

Luna is a bartender at Aqua, along with the plaintiffs in the case, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones. But he’s a generation older than they are.

His partner of 25 years died a few years ago.

“If indeed we had been able to be married, and had the same rights as everyone else who is married, I probably wouldn’t have lost my home,” he says.

Doug Mayberry owns a local real estate company. He helped organize a party celebrating the court ruling.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
Even though Judge Garcia's ruling was stayed pending the state's appeal, many in Key West gathered to celebrate the decision.

“We know Key West has always been ahead of the pack and very progressive,” Mayberry said. “I think it was the right time for us to do our part to make the whole state of Florida equal and really do the right thing for equality and marriage.”

Even though the ruling is put on hold by the state’s appeal, Mayberry said the case has special meaning because it originated in Key West.

“It’s our home,” he says. “Key West has been my home for 19 years. I’ve lived here longer than any other place in the country. I was born and raised in Arkansas. Arkansas already has moved forward on this and so have many other states. So I’m delighted that Florida can now join these other states and maybe we’ll move ahead the pack now and have marriage equality for everyone soon.”

Judge Luis Garcia, who issued the ruling, is not a Key Wester. He works out of the courthouse on Plantation Key, 90 miles up the road.

In his ruling he compared the state’s ban on gay marriage to old laws that banned interracial marriage, prevented women from voting and allowed Japanese Americans to be imprisoned in camps during World War II.

Garcia wrote: “a citizen’s right to marry is a fundamental right that belongs to the individual. The right these plaintiffs seek is not a new right, but it is a right that these individuals have always been guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Key West City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley attended the celebration of the ruling in Key West Thursday evening. Weekley is a conch -- a native Key Wester. He’s straight, but he’s officiated at many gay commitment ceremonies. He said he looks forward to repeating those ceremonies, this time with the state’s approval.

“You know, everybody says we’re the end of the road. I don’t think we’re the end of the road. I think we’re the beginning of the road,” Weekley says. “And this is one example of how we’ve taken that first step in which to show how to treat people and how to make sure that all families are treated equally.”

Before the appeal was filed, the plaintiffs Huntsman and Jones were planning to apply for a marriage license next week.

“We’ve got a venue we’d like to be married at, which is the bar we met at. It’s got a beautiful garden area,” Jones says.

“One thing at a time,” says Huntsman says. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. I wish it did.”

Even before the appeal, they weren’t planning to get married right away. They still need to save up for the rings.