On a sunny day in a Tampa park, LGBTQ couples got married. It was nice

TAMPA, Fla. — Shiine and Angel Thompson met at a sorority event and had their first date at a Brandon, Fla., bowling alley.

So when Shiine Thompson proposed, she surprised her intended by doing it at that same bowling alley, even reserving the same bowling lane.

Shiine Thompson, 31, left, and Angel Thompson, 32, right, of Brandon, share a moment at their group wedding ceremony for LGBTQ couples during Pride Month in downtown Tampa, Florida. (Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

“I would say the first time I met her, I already knew,” she said.

Thursday, they gathered with a handful of LGBTQ+ couples at the sunny park outside Tampa’s downtown courthouse to say “I do” in what was officially called the “Love is Love” community wedding event.

It was a tradition of sorts: Seven years earlier, when Florida joined other states in legalizing gay marriage, the then-clerk of the court Pat Frank promptly held a massive ceremony in that same courthouse square with dozens of couples there to make it official.

“This is a wonderful day for America,” said Frank, then 85 and dressed for the occasion in her late husband’s judicial robes.

Thursday, at the start of Pride Month, the newest court clerk, Cindy Stuart, officiated over the smaller group as friends, parents and children smiled and dabbed at tears. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” gave way to Frank Sinatra crooning “It Had To Be You.” Then, the couples stood face to face holding hands to say their vows.

“Repeat after me: I take you to be my spouse and I pledge my love to you forever,” Stuart said. They exchanged rings and a kiss.

“May you have happiness,” Stuart said. “And may you find it in making one another happy.”

Laura Conner, a 52-year-old medical librarian, wore a white dress and white sandals, a veiled hat and her mother’s pearls. Her intended sported white high-top sneakers. They met when they were both working in a library 12 years ago.

“We just, I don’t know — sparks,” said Tiffani Conner, 51, who works in business development.

“I was planning and plotting from the first time I saw her,” said Laura Conner.

Schenique Williams and Brian Obiri, a heterosexual couple, got married in the group in solidarity with their LGBTQ+ friends and family members.

“I just support it. Love is love,” said Williams, 33. “It’s beautiful no matter who you love.”

Standing in the shade after the ceremony as couples took pictures, Stuart called the vibe that day “great.”

“It’s like any wedding you go to — it’s just a day to celebrate,” she said.

Hillsborough County government has not always been so welcoming.

In 2005, a Pride display in a public library prompted the county commission to pass a ban on county government acknowledging or promoting LGBTQ+ Pride events. Eight years later, the commission unanimously overturned that ban.

Meanwhile, a partisan battle is currently brewing in Citrus County over two 2021 library displays of LGBTQ-themed books surrounded by rainbow hearts and signs saying “love is love.”

Events like the one Thursday are “important for us with all we’ve been through,” said Angel Thompson. “Going from when you’re scared to even show public affection to getting married downtown — that’s huge for us.”

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