Gay couples flocking to Florida for weddings

YULEE, Fla. — With gay marriage now legal in Florida, same-sex couples from around the Deep South crossed the border Tuesday as the Sunshine State became a prime destination for gay and lesbian weddings still banned back home.

Out-of-state couples lined up outside county courthouses early Tuesday in the Panhandle and northern Florida counties. Some drove for hours to get marriage licenses.

‘‘As soon as we heard about the ruling, we pretty much decided on a whim to come yesterday,’’ said Scott Singletary, 22. ‘‘We wanted to make sure to do it as soon as possible, in case [the law] changed.’’


On that point, Florida’s gay and lesbian weddings seem more secure than the first same-sex nuptials held years ago in other states.

The US Supreme Court refused to hear a request by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to maintain the state’s marriage ban until a final resolution. Bondi said Tuesday that her attorneys are reviewing whether to continue the state’s appeal.

Singletary and Dustyn Batten, 23, of Waycross, Ga., woke before dawn to make the nearly two-hour drive into Florida’s Nassau County. They had been planning a commitment ceremony in Jacksonville, but were thrilled to learn they could actually get married.

Many Florida destinations have offered commitment ceremony packages for years, but wedding planners and resorts sense a tourism boom from couples wanting weddings.

‘‘I’ve been fielding a ton of calls from out of state,’’ said Rachel McMurray, a wedding officiant who married a lesbian couple in Jacksonville Tuesday. ‘‘Even if their state doesn’t recognize the marriage, it gives them a sense of legitimacy.’’

County tourism boards have already changed their advertising: ‘‘Finally we all do’’ is the headline on Broward’s tourism home page.

Thirty-six states allow gay marriage, but that does not include a swath of southern states from Texas to Georgia, as well as Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.