January 6, 2016 marked the first anniversary for thousands of same-sex couples in Florida who finally had the right to marry when the marriage stay was lifted one year ago at midnight on January 6, 2015. St. Petersburg couple Erin Bell, 39, and Andrea DeFelippo, 38, became a part of history as the first same-sex couple to be married in Pinellas County, at the Pinellas County courthouse chapel on 1st Avenue North.
Erin and Andrea, who both work in management in the senior care industry, met through mutual friends and were together for five years and engaged for almost a year before they married. Before the marriage stay was lifted, they already had a commitment ceremony planned for October 3, 2015, in Erin’s hometown of St. Augustine. The ceremony became a wedding celebration instead.
They shared their thoughts on that momentous day – and how they feel one year later.
Q: You already had a ceremony planned for October. Why did you decide to have the civil ceremony?
We wanted to make sure we were protected as soon as we were able to be.
Q: Did having the wedding ceremony later in the year change anything about how you felt?
No, I don’t think so. We finally felt safe after our civil ceremony.
Q: Looking back, how did you feel about the experience at the courthouse a year ago with other couples getting married, the press coverage and support from advocacy groups such as Equality Florida in attendance?
It was a little overwhelming at first, but the person who married us on January 6, Arrica Grant the Recording Services Supervisor, was amazing. She really left a lasting impression on us. We even sent her flowers this past Wednesday on January 6, 2016 to say “Thank you” again.
Q: Do you feel more strongly now about marriage as a right?
We have always felt strongly about marriage. I [Erin] was raised by my biological mother and her female partner. They have been together for over 30 years. They were married in Vermont in 2013 but, of course, it wasn’t recognized here in Florida until 2015. I think for us, we always knew that we wanted to be together, but being able to marry gave us a sense of protection that neither of us had ever known before. It’s been very exciting!
Q: How did you feel after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the right to marry nationwide?
To be honest, shocked! Neither one of us really believed that we would see it happen during our lifetime. We were super excited and crying, of course. It meant so much to so many people, so many families; it was overwhelming!
Q: How do you feel being married changed your relationship a year ago and now, a year later?
Not much has changed between us. Like I said, we always knew that we wanted to be together. We believe the biggest change has been with other people. Same-sex marriage becoming legal in Florida and then shortly thereafter across the nation made a lot of people that we know who would not have thought twice about making a homophobic comment, now watch what they say a little bit more. Plus we have both felt a huge amount of support from our LGBT community as well as our straight allies. I also believe that people that may not have been quite as comfortable coming forward as straight allies, now feel like they are able to.
Q: What do you think is the best part about being married?
To answer that question we have to go back to that feeling of safety. That is something that is immeasurable. Something that you can’t put a price on. There is nothing quite like it!
Finally, Florida, January 7, 2015