Beyond Park East Part III: Marriage Equality

Jul 12, 2017

Jonathan (L) and Dwayne Beebe-Franqui.
Credit Dwayne Beebe-Franqui

The third installment of “Beyond Park East,” features what the justices hath brought together -- same-sex marriage.

On a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court in June, 2015 extended marriage equality to all 50 states and territories.

“This affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts; when all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free, said President Obama just after the court’s decision.

“This ruling is a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights; it’s a victory for their children, “said Obama. “There’s so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of American to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms, that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.”

Florida got a head start on the remainder of the nation, becoming the 36th state to pass marriage equality in January of 2015. Before then, Floridians wishing to enter into a same-sex union had to go elsewhere.

“Legally, we married in Maryland on January 1st, 2013,” said Dwayne Beebe-Franqui, a Navy Master Chief aboard NAS Pensacola. He and his husband Jonathan met in Pensacola seven years ago.

He says just getting married proved to be quite a challenge.

“Having to go all the way to Maryland to acquire a wedding certificate and legally be married,” said Beebe-Franqui. “But also, leading up to the wedding we had some challenges from vendors here in Pensacola. One in particular – a videographer that didn’t want to do our wedding.”

“My dad was in the Army for 22 years; I’ve had a military ID before but it stated ‘dependent,’” said Jonathan Beebe-Franqui – who spoke from their home in the Washington D.C. area.

“Now, being recognized as a military spouse and being able to receive those benefits, [I’m] also able to able to help support my family and my husband, just as so many other spouses do.”

Census Bureau figures show 732 same-sex couples in Escambia County. That’s six-point-three per one thousand population, ranking 10th among Florida’s 67 counties. The couples are divided almost equally between male and female.

Santa Rosa is ranked 42nd with three and a half per thousand. The data from Okaloosa County are so miniscule, they’re not listed in the rankings.

“It was an exciting time; the ruling came down on January 1st, which was my birthday. And so I looked at my now-husband and said ‘Oh, look I got an early birthday present,’” said Rev. Jim Merritt, Senior Pastor at Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church in Pensacola.

When the ruling was issued, his workload skyrocketed, including his own wedding to longtime partner Albert Knight Leach.

“My colleagues and I did 20 weddings in one day at our church,” Merritt said. “We opened them up and did them for free.”

Michelle Caldwell and Serena Dunham on their wedding day at Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church.
Credit Bob Barrett, WUWF Public Media

The first couple to tie the knot at Holy Cross MCC was Michelle Caldwell and Serena Dunham, with Dunham’s daughter Jayda on hand.

“It is an historical moment today,” Caldwell said, “mainly because as Christians, it’s very important for us to come before God, and also before Man, to have recognition of what we feel like this is the person that God called me to be with.”

For Serena, getting married had both spiritual and practical implications.

“For me, it means that my partner and my daughter will have the same benefits and the same recognition as a heterosexual couple,” said Serena. “That means my daughter’s future is secure. If anything happens to me, Michelle would have no problems maintaining custody of her.”

Michelle and Serena, it turned out, were the first same-sex couple to be married, in what was a marathon of services throughout that day. But Michelle says while that wasn’t in the plan, it was important for someone to stand and be a voice because there’s work still to be done.

“When slavery was over with, they didn’t stop killing slaves,” Michelle said. “We’re still going to deal with that. There’s probably going to be repercussions of people finding out that we are [married] that didn’t know before. It has been a struggle but the struggle’s over and I think we saw today, it was nothing more than a hiccup.”

Same-sex couples wishing to marry are under the same requirements as straight couples. There’s a three-day waiting period after issuance of a marriage license. That can be waived, if the couple takes a premarital preparation course certified by the state.

More information is available at your county clerk’s office.

Coming up in part four of “Beyond Park East,” the spiritual side of the LGBT community.