Students, community finding peace with same-sex marriage legalized

By Justin Katz |

DrewWith same-sex marriage legalized in Florida, from a federal court ruling that overturned the outstanding ban, couples all across Florida celebrated their newly received marriages licenses, marking an end to both personal and public struggles.

One person in St. Augustine who has been involved in the marriage equality debate for more than two decades is Rev. Ruth Jensen-Forbell, pastor at First Coast Metropolitan Community church.

Forbell, who was legally married in both Canada and New York, has been actively fighting for marriage equality in Florida with a Jacksonville-based group. But even she was surprised at how quickly this happened.

“It was like a tidal wave from other states,” said Forbell. “The first thing we started working on was adoption because that has been proven to be the gay way to marriage equality.”

On the day that the federal court ruling took effect, Rev. Forbell was one of the people standing outside the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville waiting. While most were there to support all the newlyweds, only a couple were there to protest.

“There were two protestors — not two groups, I mean the number two — two protestors,” said Forbell. “I think that says something. It’s becoming no big deal.”

Duval County Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell stopped the practice of his staff performing weddings in the court’s chapel. Fussell said his staff was uncomfortable with the prospect of performing a same-sex ceremony.

Although judges, notaries public and clergy can refuse to perform weddings at their own discretion, the state’s clerks of court are required to issue licenses to anyone who fits the legal standard. Although the ruling was a win for proponents of marriage equality, many think it will not change everyone’s opinions.

“I honestly think the (ruling) won’t sway people either way. People are going to believe what they want to believe, and nothing will really change their minds,” said Mary Beth Lanigan, junior at Flagler, who identifies as pansexual meaning she is attracted to people based on the person, not the gender.

Lanigan is not the only Flagler student to have experienced issues with Florida’s view on the LGBT community.

“My freshman year of high school was not okay and what made it worse was I had no support from the school or the community,” said Drew Herbst, freshmen at Flagler and president of Club Unity, who is in a same-sex relationship.

Over time Herbst was able to make the connections and support he needed, but he makes no qualms about one thing: it was hard.

“Over the years I’ve gotten that support, but I’ve had to reach out of my own comfort zone to find them, but once I did it was worth it,” Herbst said.

St. Augustine still lacks human rights ordinances protecting homosexuals from discrimination in the work place. Despite the strides at the state level, Lanigan sees issues at the local level.

“I think that acceptance of LGBT people here is disturbingly low,” said Lanigan.

Forbell thinks that acceptance is at a personal level.

“[People] need to see and know someone who is gay. They need to see and know someone who is benefiting from same-sex marriage,” Forbell said.

While the ruling signals to some that the state as a whole is progressing, Herbst is not wholly satisfied at the local level.

“I was president of the Gay Straight Alliance at my high school and I wanted to become a part of Flagler’s,” said Herbst. “We’re not a (Gay Straight Alliance organization) right now and we’re looking to change that because we would get national funding and support.”

Regardless of politics, Herbst has one thing to say to students at Flagler who need the support he had to search for: “The club is here, and I’m here if anyone ever needs to talk,” he said.

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