St. Pete LGBT residents and their supporters rally for Supreme Court DOMA decision

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Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and sent advocates for equality into a frenzy of celebration. At North Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg, some 100 members of the LGBT community and their allies rallied despite threatening weather. Among the crowd of purple shirts and rainbow flags, Stacy Blake, executive director of Community Tampa Bay compared the decision to a 1967 ruling that is responsible for her own marriage.

“Loving V. Virginia ended the prohibition against inter-racial marriage and today we can celebrate another step on the road to ending discrimination. Certainly, I, as a child could not have imagined how that decision would affect my life and so today I’m thinking about the children in our community don’t even know how many doors have just been opened for them because of the decision made today.” My name is Greg Holden and I’m here as a supporter of equality, I’m here as a friend of many who’ve waited a long time for today and I’m also proud to be here representing your chamber of commerce as a member of the board of governors. I appreciate the chance to say a couple of words and be here with you and, love is love, so thanks for having me."

“Thank you. My name is Jeff Danner. I’ve had the privilege for 8 years now to serve you on the city council here in the city of St. Petersburg. I think normally I would say welcome to the sunshine city, but today we might be more likely to see a rainbow outside with this weather. My daughter who is now 20 and is about to make me a grandfather, came home from kindergarten one day with a little boy who walked her home and asked, ‘how come Ben, who has two moms, their moms can’t get married?’ And I thought it was so cool in Kindergarten to ask that question and be part of a community that was accepting of that. So I think it’s a great day today and everybody knows here that the city of St. Petersburg doesn’t tolerate discrimination.”

“Hello everybody, thank you for coming today, thank you for coming out and celebrating with us. My name is Brian Winfield and I am the managing director for Equality Florida. The Supreme Court took actions that have the net effect of ensuring 38 million more Americans – residents in California – will live in a state that recognizes full marriage equality for all of its residents.”

“Alright, I wouldn’t be Katee Tully if I wasn’t trying to get in the last word. So, let me share this with you: three of the four speakers you just heard are straight; that’s what it is going to take to move Florida forward.”

Tully is an Equality Florida board member. Among the jubilated crowd were a handful of children, some of them clinging to two moms or two dads. Many opponents of same sex marriage argue that is flies in the face of conventional families. But Don Warner had children despite his sexual orientation. He said they turned out just fine.

“I had the opportunity to have and raise two children and as I moved around the country, it concerns me that people adopt and because their parents – there is no marriage for their parents – if something happens to the adoptive parent because most states only allow one parent to adopt, those children are thrown into limbo and that shouldn’t happen. The government should be about recognizing contracts amongst people who love each other and protecting children and that’s why this is important to me.”

The early evening rally on St. Pete’s downtown waterfront started a little early to beat a looming thunderstorm crossing Tampa Bay. Most came prepared with umbrellas in hand. But Greg Stemm was one of about a dozen people celebrating with rainbow striped umbrella hats on their heads. He said a little rain wasn’t going to keep him from cheering the decision.

“I cried when the ruling came down. It was so meaningful to me that the Supreme Court acknowledged that we are not second class citizens.”

The ruling did come with a downside though. The decision extends some federal rights to married couples. The Pentagon announced military benefits would be given to spouses in same sex marriages. But in states where same sex marriage is not legal, Equality Florida’s Brian Winfield said some benefits like hospital visitation could still be ignored.

“While today is a huge day for celebration, we have to realize that the Supreme Court of the United States fell short by not making freedom to marry for everyone the law of the land in the United States. We have to ensure that the freedom to marry for everyone is the law of the land in Florida. Get engaged!”

The City of St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, Tampa and several other Tampa Bay area localities have passed domestic partnership registries. That allows couples who register to be afforded some of the basic rights given to married couples. Equality Florida is continuing efforts to further marriage equality.

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