ST. PETERSBURG — In a brightly-lit, flamboyant and lengthy procession that crept down Central Avenue on Saturday night, it seemed few groups passed up the chance to show their support for the Tampa Bay area's gay community.
Mayors have proclaimed their support for St. Pete Pride both in Tampa and in St. Petersburg, and a rainbow flag flies this weekend over St. Petersburg City Hall. Men in leather chaps, others in sparking gowns, walked in the big parade next to Lutherans, local gay bar patrons and dozens of representatives from corporate America – Wells Fargo, Florida Blue, T-Mobile, Humana, Macy's, Geico, to name a few.
Last year the more than 100,000 people who showed up for the parade billed as Florida's largest gay pride celebration cheered the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that denying recognition to same sex couples was unconstitutional.
Since then gay couples in one state after another have sued for the right to marry where same sex marriage is banned.
Last week a federal appeals court in Denver ruled that states must allow gay couples to marry and the issue might reach the nation's highest court for a decision that possibly could make gay marriage the law of the land.
Florida's court system this week will hear the case of several couples suing for marriage rights and the overturn of a statewide ban voted into law in 2008.
“I think it's amazing. I think that the states that are throwing away taxpayers' dollars to defend something that is eventually going to be overturned by the Supreme Court; it's an insult,” said Dan Casper, who recently moved from Chicago to St. Petersburg with his husband, Luis Balaguer.
“It's fighting love, is what it is.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has made a motion to intervene in defense of the ban in a case that will be heard Wednesday in a Miami courtroom.
Those who see the legal battle as a fight for marriage equality say there is still a long road ahead, but appear confident victory is inevitable.
Indeed, the theme of this year's St. Pete Pride festival — a three-day occasion this year for the first time — looks beyond America's legal battles to the global movement for gay rights.
Vice President Joe Biden last week echoed St. Petersburg's “Global Equality” message at a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates. He promised to direct U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women.
Many diplomats will take part in gay pride parades in cities across the world this weekend and some embassies will fly the rainbow flag along with the U.S. flag.
“I think it's glacier-like movement. It's slow,” Dunedin resident Sherry Langlais, 60, said of the global gay rights movement.
Langlais, a longtime activist, held up a sign that read “Born This Way” along the parade route on Central.
“I'm so thankful to be an American and to be in this country where I'm free to voice my opinion, love who I want to love, say what I want to say,” she said.
In the United States, the growing presence of major corporations at gay pride parades is clear evidence of how broad acceptance has become in a short time, supporters say.
At the Motor City Pride Festival in Detroit, banners were adorned with corporate logos, including those of General Motors, Ford, Comerica bank, Kroger and Whole Foods Market.
Wal-Mart is joining in, too, sponsoring the New York parade — a decision made by stores in New Jersey, said spokesman Randy Hargrove.
“Businesses are seeing it's not only the right thing to do, it's a smart thing for business,” said Sue Hoffman, communications director for Equality Florida.
Equality Florida and other groups pushing for gay marriage in the state are hopeful they'll have even more to celebrate next year.
The issue undoubtedly will come into play in the state's gubernatorial race this fall.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott has said he supports the 2008 ban, but Democratic contender Charlie Crist last week filed a legal brief in support of the couples suing for marriage rights.
Supporters of the Democratic challenger were out in force Saturday passing out stickers that said “LGBT for Crist”, and his campaign has set up a field office on Central Avenue.
Crist, who is employed by Orlando law firm Morgan & Morgan, wrote it was the government's job to “equitably administer the law,” though he predicted “with the arc of history now, in fact, bending toward justice, this issue of marriage equality will almost certainly not even be an issue for the children and grandchildren of this state.
Even at Saturday's parade, not everyone was convinced history should be heading toward gay marriage.
A group of religious evangelists drove along the edges of the parade route urging participants to repent with signs that read, “Got Aids yet?”
Among the thousands who showed up Saturday, the protestors appeared as a distinct minority.
Todd Richardson, who works for Equality Florida's St. Petersburg office, said the vast majority of people are coming to see that gay marriage doesn't undermine traditional nuptials.
“I believe it has to do with acceptance; that more and more people realize that we don't threaten traditional marriage,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.