Denied a Marriage License, Fla. Couple Sue Country Clerk :: The Interview
On Tuesday, April 1, a Key West couple, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, attempted to apply for a marriage license at the Monroe County clerk's office in Key West. They were denied by County Clerk Amy Heavilin, and were backed up by the on-site counsel, who said that until the law is changed, the county had no choice but to deny the request for a license.
Huntsman and Jones quickly chose a lawyer to represent them, Bernadette Restivo from the Law Offices of Restivo, Reilly & Vigil-Fariñas. She and the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Ms. Heavilin, acting in her capacity as County Clerk, claiming that the current law against gay couples is discriminatory and should be found unconstitutional. Many similar laws across the nation have already been struck down by state and district courts, and it is the plaintiffs' hope that Monroe County Chief Judge David Audlin will examine the lawsuit and eventually rule in their favor.
Huntsman and Jones, who have been together for 11 years and work together at the 801 Bourbon Bar in Key West, feel that it is very important that they get married in the city they met and currently live and work.
I got a chance to speak to Aaron Huntsman and his lawyer Bernadette Restivo in an exclusive Hotspots interview. All answers are from Huntsman unless otherwise noted in the text; a couple of questions were answered by Restivo.
Tell us about your relationship.
We met at Key West Gay Pride in 2003. I was giving up my title as Mr. Pride and I had no idea what true love meant until I met Lee. It was love at first glance. Lee was working at Bourbon Street Pub as a bar back. I asked a former employee who he was and I was introduced to him officially at the garden bar. I asked Lee if he knew what a "Key West hand shake" was. He said no. I will leave it at that for your imagination. We both knew after spending three days together that we would be together for the rest of our lives.
You live together and work together too. What's it like to spend so much of your time together?
Lee and I have been working at the same establishments including Torpedo in Fort Lauderdale; Georgie's Alibi and Azul in Palm Springs, California; and Bourbon Street Pub and the 801 Bourbon Bar in Key West. Lee and I have been living together since the third day we met. Our relationship is quite unique, as we do spend about 95 percent of the time together all day, every day and night, and we continue to be united in our feelings. It seems like we were destined to be together, as we can separate our working relationship and our personal relationship and they don't ever conflict.
After 11 years together, what factors made you want to become legally married now?
On our one year anniversary, we went to my hometown of Las Vegas and tried to get married. We were turned down by a well-known chapel mid-strip where we were told that the chapel doesn't offer "alternative lifestyle" weddings. Both of us, feeling upset and disappointed not being treated equally like traditional marriage couples, went to a local coffee shop and searched online for a place that would give us what we wanted. We were still told no, that Nevada doesn't recognize same sex marriage, but we were given an alternative option of having a commitment ceremony.
We took the ceremony offer and it was broadcast live over the Internet as one of the first gay couples to get together via the web from Las Vegas. Almost all the nightclubs in Fort Lauderdale showed our ceremony live to the customers. June 10, 2014 will be our 10-year anniversary of our commitment ceremony and our 11-year anniversary of being together. We already feel in our hearts that we are a married couple in our eyes and in God's.
You're suing the County Clerk of the Courts and not the State of Florida directly. Why did you choose to sue her specifically?
Bernadette Restivo: I'd like to answer this. It was the Monroe County Clerk of Courts who denied Aaron and Lee a marriage license. We sued her, in her official capacity, asking the Court to declare the same-sex marriage ban Amendment to the Florida Constitution as well as other Florida marriage statutes unconstitutional. This is the proper venue to bring this case since Aaron and Lee are residents of Monroe County. The law requires that we serve the Florida Attorney General with a copy of the complaint, which we did.
How does it feel to live in an area as laid-back and as accepting as Key West, yet you've been denied the chance to marry?
The same as it would anywhere else in Florida. It sucks. The state of Florida is denying us the right to get legally married like every other couple.
There have been other statewide lawsuits challenging Florida's marriage laws, one filed with the help of the ACLU and one filed with the help of Equality Florida. Why go it alone instead of joining on to a larger lawsuit?
Bernadette Restivo: We look forward to any assistance and cooperation given to Aaron and Lee in their quest to be legally married in Florida. We admire the legal work being done by Equality Florida, the ACLU and other groups working to reverse the same-sex marriage ban in Florida.
I think I speak for many people when I say I hope your lawsuit succeeds. When it does, and you get the chance to marry in Key West, are you planning on throwing a party at 801 Bourbon Bar? I'm sure a lot of people would want to celebrate your joy with you.
Yes, we are going to have a party at the 801 Bourbon bar, but we hope the party extends throughout the state of Florida.
Is there anything you would like the public to know about you and your husband?
Yes, we are just two normal guys who don't wear frocks on this rock. We would like to have a true honeymoon.