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Separate, not equal

Orlando's same-sex couples celebrate the city's new domestic-partnership registry, but a fumble by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs dampens the mood

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Activists, however, are trying not to downplay the significance of what happened in the city of Orlando, despite what may happen in the county.

“This is an important step,” says Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s field director. “It’s our job as leaders in the LGBT community to be moving the dial as quickly and effectively as we can.”

At the same time, activists aren’t taking Mayor Jacobs’ rejection of a registry for the county lightly.

“We are not going to be played,” says former Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart.

Rachel Gardiner, 55, and Nicki Drumb,42, were at both of the early December City Council meetings; they waived their right to speak at the first, but at the second, Drumb – who is “terrified of public speaking” – worked up the courage to approach the dais and tell her story.

At home, curled up with a clove cigarette by a fire pit in their Colonialtown backyard, Drumb says, “We don’t have a lot of the ‘We were in the hospital and we couldn’t see each other,’ or any of that tragedy stuff.”

The pair met at the First Unitarian Church on March 3, 2003, for an anti-war reading of Lysistrata. At the time, Gardiner was ending a long-term relationship and Drumb, well, “I was a little bit married,” she says.

They reconnected the next year, and, following a gay-bashing incident outside of the Peacock Room in January 2005, took part in the Love Not Hate march organized as a response.

“Afterwards, I went to hug her goodbye, and my knees just got really weak,” Drumb recalls. A hastily assembled love note by Drumb – basically a fanned-out piece of paper with her phone number on it in case of emergency – and the two were inseparable.

“My husband and I started separating, very amicably, and we started dating right away,” Drumb says. Drumb loaded her stuff into a van and parked outside of Gardiner’s house.

“Logic says you don’t rush into a new relationship, and you don’t move in right away, but there is that lesbian thing,” Gardiner laughs. “We got an apartment, that was the spring. … That was the announcement of our second date.”

Now the couple lives together with their dog. Drumb proposed in 2006 and they had an unofficial Orlando marriage ceremony in 2007.

“It was a religious ceremony that had no legal repercussions at all,” Gardiner says. “When it started becoming legal in other places, Nicki proposed to me that we do a ‘tour’ and we go to every state where it’s legal.”

Drumb and Gardiner officially tied the knot in New York City’s Central Park last August, forgoing the financial constraints of a symbolic gypsy sojourn. They’ve also been present at the Orange County Courthouse for the past three Februaries in search of a marriage license, and they are the organizers of the Human Heart: An OUT-right Love-In event each Feb. 14 at Loch Haven Park. They feel like they are in a position to open the conversation about the rights they are and are not afforded; as graphic designers, they don’t live in fear of losing their jobs. (Gardiner, however, makes it clear that she is not to name her employer for this story; Drumb works for the Bonnier Corporation). As to whether the registry will directly affect their relationship, Gardiner is circumspect.

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