PHOTOS: Advocates gather at The Villages in FL to learn about marriage

Yesterday, March 24, marriage supporters gathered at The Villages, a retirement community in Florida, to discuss the marriage movement, and to celebrate the freedom to marry being a reality in Florida. Freedom to Marry was proud to support Equality Florida and Rainbow Family & Friends in hosting this event.

Speakers at the event included Reverend Janet Onnie of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marion County, Jennie O'Leary of Equality Florida, and Sherrie Aly and Marianne Metz, a same-sex couple living in The Villages. The panel included medical ethicist Betsy Johnson and attorney JoAnn Waterfield.

Community members of The Villages shared their stories and their experiences with the freedom to marry in Florida. Sherrie and Marianne shared the story of how they met and fell in love. The couple married in Washington, DC last year -- and, now, their marriage is finally respected in Florida.

"Sometimes it feels odd to call her my wife," Sherrie said, referencing the feeling of telling people for the first time about her marriage to Marianne. "But when you do, it's like something clicks and you've finally been honest with them. And I have felt such warmth in return."

Rev. Janet Onnie remembered marrying same-sex couples after the stay in Florida was lifted. "When I was marrying couples on January 6, some had been together for 20, 30, 40, even 50 years.," she said. "And the usual liturgy in some ways didn't represent the commitment these people had made, the deep commitment. These were couples where sickness and health had real meaning. And we were celebrating as a congregation all day."

Amy Mello, Field Director for Freedom to Marry, gave an update to the community about marriage in Florida and across the nation, focusing on the cases before the United States Supreme Court, and a panel discussion was held to discuss any further questions about marriage in Florida.

Carl and Judith, a couple who lives in The Villages, attended the event to support the freedom to marry and their son David, who recently married his partner Joseph in Delaware.

On January 6, the freedom to marry took effect statewide in Florida even as an appeal proceeds to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a federal marriage ruling, issued in August 2014 from U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle. Previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and the United States Supreme Court had denied requests from the state of Florida to extend the stay. Read more about litigation in Florida here.