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Marriage Equality Comes To The Panhandle

It was a day filled with bouquets and cake and history as marriage equality came to Florida on Tuesday.  In Pensacola, the Rev Dr. Jim Merritt began a full day of same sex weddings at the Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church.

It's been a busy day all around the state as couples who have waited for years for the opportunity to marry rushed to county clerks offices as soon as they opened. Escambia county Clerk Pam Childers says there was a bit of a rush first thing Tuesday morning, but then things began to calm back down. Childers says in the first hour 28 marriage licenses were issued and 8 wedding ceremonies were performed.

Jason Miller was part of the early crowd at the Escambia County Clerk's office. He was getting his marriage license along with his partner Devin Lino. The couple's plans included a wedding ceremony at the Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church, where wedding ceremonies for same sex couples were being performed for free all day long.

The first couple at the altar at MCC was Michelle Caldwell and Serena Dunham, a Pensacola couple who had been waiting 10 years to get married in their home state. After their ceremony, Michelle said it was important to them to get married on the first day possible. "As Christians, it's very important for us to come before God, and also before man to have recognition of (the fact that) this is the person that God called me to be with."

Michelle says she stills expects to encounter resistance to marriage equality, pointing out that Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and 12 other Florida Counties are no longer performing any weddings at the county offices to avoid doing same sex weddings. But she said while buying things for the wedding she told merchants what they were for and to see the reaction. "Dillards was phenomenal! Flora-rama in Gulf Breeze was phenomonal! The Hallmark store in Gulf Breeze gave us our ribbons!...People were surrounding us with love and encouragement and excitement!".

Michelle, Serena and their adopted daughter enjoyed some cake with friends and supporters and then went off to, as Michelle put it, do something fun. Meanwhile, weddings continued at the church. Reverend Booth Iburg, a friend of Michelle and Selenas who helped perform their ceremony said they were there for the long haul saying "we've got three pastors here, we're taking turns."

And one wedding at MCC was personal, as Reverend Dr. Jim Merritt married his long time partner Al Leach.