TAMPA — The crush of same-sex couples at marriage license counters across the state one month ago Friday was just that: near overwhelming numbers the first day, with smaller numbers since.
Over the past month, nearly 1,000 marriage licenses were issued through the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office, about a third to same-sex couples. The same ratio was evident in Pinellas County; in Pasco, about a quarter of the marriage licenses issued in the last month went to same-sex couples, according to numbers compiled by clerks’ offices in those counties.
Hillsborough courthouse records show that about 90 same-sex couples pulled licenses on Jan. 6, many of whom were married in a mass ceremony that afternoon in a county park across the street from the clerk’s office.
The Hillsborough numbers aren’t exact because the license forms don’t have boxes to indicate the genders of the applicants.
On Jan. 6, the first day same-sex couples could legally marry in Florida, 35 licenses issued in Hillsborough County went to gay male couples and 55 to lesbian couples. Twenty-nine licenses were issued to heterosexual couples that day, records show.
The second day, 54 licenses were issued to same-sex couples, and 15 licenses were issued to heterosexual couples.
Over the course of the next 30 days, the numbers slowly reversed. In the last week, about a dozen of the 80 marriage licenses issued in Hillsborough County went to same-sex couples.
In Pinellas County, a total of 730 marriage licenses were issued in January, 258 of which were for same-sex couples, records show. The office did not have tallies for the first week of February.
Pinellas deputy clerks performed 238 ceremonies last month, 64 of which were for same-sex couples.
In Pasco County, the ratio of same-sex licences to total licenses issued was slightly lower than in Hillsborough and Pinellas. Between Jan. 6 and Friday, 236 marriage licenses were issued, 66 of which were written to same-sex couples, Pasco records show.
The first couple in line outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse on the morning of Jan. 6 were Shirley Winslow and Brenda Cuevas. They had staked out the first-in-line-spot the afternoon before, and immediately after receiving their license were married by County Clerk Pat Frank.
On their one-month anniversary, both were still gushing over the opportunity to be legally married, though there was a lot of work to do after the “I dos.”
“We are better than we were before,” said Winslow, whose name now is Cuevas-Winslow. “We are legally recognized. We went to Social Security and got our names changed there and it was really easy to do. They were very helpful.”
Over their first month of marriage, the couple have been busy, she said. They took care of changes to drivers’ licenses, paperwork at the bank and visited doctors’ offices. They changed names on their passports.
They updated names on utility bills and auto and homeowners’ insurance and the deed to their house. They also changed legal paperwork, reflecting they are spouses now, not domestic partners.
“It was a hassle,” Cuevas-Winslow said, “But it’s kind of a fun hassle.”
After each chore, she said, they celebrated with some champagne and a dinner out.
In the middle of all this, the couple, who have been together for 25 years, are renovating their house.
“A new, fresh start,” Cuevas-Winslow said, “for a new marriage.”
The path to same-sex marriages in Florida was rocky.
In December, a federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi sought to block same-sex weddings through appeals. Though those appeals — including one to the U.S. Supreme Court — failed, an attorney representing the county clerks’ association wrote a memo advising Florida’s clerks that issuing same-sex marriage licenses could result in criminal charges.
On New Year’s Day, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a clarification of his order that cleared the way for legal same-sex weddings across the state. He said the ban on same-sex marriages would be lifted at midnight on Jan. 6, a date nearly 100 gay couples in Hillsborough County and hundreds more across the state will celebrate as anniversaries.
Many in Hillsborough County were married that day, as Frank waived the normal three-day waiting period. She performed several wedding ceremonies in Room 140 of the clerk’s office and again in a group wedding for dozens in the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park adjacent to the courthouse.
“I didn’t know how many would show up,” Frank said Friday. “We were thinking, we may have two or three couples ... It was a surprise to get that many.”
The surge boosted the number of ceremonies performed at the clerk’s office from the year before. This January, deputy clerks presided at 309 ceremonies compared to 141 in January 2014.
Frank said only one person sent her an unsigned postcard criticizing her. Two of her employees objected to performing same-sex ceremonies, she said. Both were reprimanded.
“It’s their duty,” she said. One employee relented, the other resigned, Frank said.
“It’s interesting,” she said. “I have had a lot of people come up to me and thank me. They just thank me for being aggressive for promoting the marriages. It was very nice.”
The numbers seems to have settled into what they will be from here on out, she said.
“We may get a surge on Valentines Day,” she said, “but we always get that.’’