TAMPA — CeCe Arduengo remembers the years of prejudice and violence she endured for being gay. Now, she’s enjoying seeing the change in society’s attitude toward homosexuals.
“I thought I would never see this in my lifetime,” said Arduengo, 65, of Tampa. “No one blinks an eye anymore.”
Arduengo was one of more than 50 people who attended a Thursday night celebration night at Unity of Tampa applauding the Florida Keys judge who ruled against the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
While State Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a notice to appeal Thursday’s ruling, the gay community and its supporters said they feel sure Florida soon will legalize and recognize same-sex marriage.
“I thought it would happen, but I thought it would be a while,” Arduengo said. “This is happening fast.”
Earlier this year, Arduengo, 65, of Tampa, married Denise Fletcher in New York City. Before heading to New York, they bought their wedding rings at a Tampa jewelry store. They said the staff was supportive and asked to take photos with the couple.
“We’re people,” said Fletcher, 65, of Tampa. “What matters is that we love each other. Our lives are no different. We have the same routines, the same joys, the same challenges in life. I think there is no turning back.”
Vincent Zeoli and Scott Barry have been partners for 31 years. They said they haven’t gotten married out of state because they want to achieve that goal in Florida, where they have their family and friends who have supported them for years.
While both men know the change won’t be fast, they said they see progress being made.
“It’s very positive,” said Barry, 57, of Tampa. “I think Pam Bondi is wasting our money. It’s inevitable that this is going to happen.”
The reception and celebration was organized by Equality Florida, an organization working to secure equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender.
The gathering included State Rep. Janet Cruz, of Tampa, who spoke about the judge’s ruling and her support for gay marriage. Cruz’s daughter is gay and Cruz said she’d like to see her daughter marry her partner in Tampa.
Cruz said she feels the change in attitude in the community but not in the Legislature. Still, she said, the judge’s ruling was cause for celebration.
“It’s a new day in Florida,” Cruz said.