Activists fighting for marriage equality come out in Tampa

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Community organizer Edwin Enciso called himself a "recovering hater" who was raised in a fundamentalist household to hate gay marriage. He told a story about how he was debating the issue in a high school social studies class with a student who spoke fondly of her gay uncle and his partner.

"She was breaking me down. There was nothing that I had, but still in my stupidity I had the gall to say, 'You know what? Over my dead body.' In this idiotic, defiant moment of standing for absolutely nothing. And thank goodness, that in my life I not only separated from that belief system, but I was lucky enough to have gay people and especially this young gay man come into my life who helped open my eyes to a wonderful community and to all sorts of experiences that radically changed who I am as a person."

The ACLU of Florida's Joyce Hamilton Henry told the crowd about a case that will be brought up in Wednesday's court session: Edi Windsor became engaged to her partner, Thea Spyer, in 1967. In 2007, the couple married. But after Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was hit with a $363,000 estate tax bill that she could have avoided if their marriage had been recognized by the federal government.

At that point, Hamilton Henry said Windsor contacted the ACLU nationally. "It's time that gay couples are recognized by state government, by the federal government, as a couple with legal protections and rights as any straight couple."

The event was organized by the group GetEqual Florida. State leader Jared Scarbrough played M.C. for the hour-plus-long event. Unlike everyone else in the crowd who was bundled up, he stuck to a short-sleeved shirt, saying he was used to the cold weather, though he confessed later on that he was a feeling a little less comfortable.

The evening's final speaker was the Reverend Phyllis Hunt, senior pastor with the Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa. She began her speech by saying she had scrapped her prepared remarks, since they had been made and repeated by the previous speakers.

Hunt quoted Gandhi, while telling the crowd how crucial it was to stand together to fight for marriage equality. "He said first they ignored you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you WIN!" She then also noted the early spring chill, adding, "That takes a lot of time and a lot of courage and it takes a lot of blankets 'cause it's cold out here."

Currently nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, but 31 states (including Florida in 2008) have constitutional amendments banning it.

The high court is not expected to announce its decision on the two cases until late June.

click to enlarge Activists fighting for marriage equality come out in Tampa - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
Activists fighting for marriage equality come out in Tampa

click to enlarge Activists fighting for marriage equality come out in Tampa - Shanna Gillette
Shanna Gillette
Activists fighting for marriage equality come out in Tampa

This week, same-sex marriage faces its biggest test yet — it's being debated in the U.S. Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the issue was the constitutionality of California's voter-approved Proposition 8, which restricted marriage to heterosexual couples. Today, the issue is DOMA, the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The momentousness of the occasion has seen groups both for and against same-sex marriage hold rallies across the country, and on a very chilly Tuesday night in Tampa, an estimated 200 people gathered at the steps of the federal building on Florida Avenue just north of downtown to call for marriage equality — now.

"My two moms mean the world to each other," said 13-year-old Tyler Meagley, the first public speaker of the evening. "And I mean the world to them. What do we have to gain from shunning people just because of who they love? How does this benefit us? So they're different? Whoop-de-doo, big deal. Gay people aren't some poison. Gay people are just people with a different form of love. It can't be helped."

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