MANATEE -- On the day Greg McKinney and Terry Davis get married at Bradenton's Congregational United Church of Christ, they'll have crossed a lot of hurdles.
The two gay men have waited more than 20 years for their home state to allow them to marry. A federal court order is scheduled to give them permission Jan. 6. On top of that, they are going to be married in a church denomination that during Terry's childhood saw homosexuality as a sin.
One of many gay and lesbian couples intending to tie the knot as soon as they can get a marriage license from the county clerk's office, McKinney and Davis have never been tempted to leave the country or go out of state to get legally married, no matter how many of their friends did just that. Over 15 years as Tennessee residents and almost five in Florida, they long ago vowed to be married men where they live.
And if a marriage certificate is made available to them at the Manatee County Courthouse next Tuesday, they'll pick it up.
"We would like to do this in our own county," Davis said. "We never thought we would be able to."
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle declared the state's 6-year-old gay marriage ban unconstitutional in August. He stayed his decision until Jan. 5 to give Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi time to appeal. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend the stay.
Late Monday, Bondi's office filed a motion asking Hinkle to clarify whether clerks in all counties can issue marriage licenses to gay couples starting next week.
Hinkle previously ruled Florida's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. He stayed his ruling, but the stay is scheduled to expire Jan. 5.
Bondi's filing doesn't offer a clear opinion on who is right. Instead, it says if Hinkle intends for the ruling to apply more widely, he should "provide additional clarification."
County clerks throughout the state and in Manatee County have been advised by legal counsel Hinkle's ruling may apply only to the Washington County couple named in his decision, or just in Washington County. Hinkle ordered state officials to submit their interpretations of the ruling by the end of Monday.
Hinkle's office refused to comment Monday afternoon on those interpretations or how they were being handled by the court. The Florida Office of the Attorney General, which represents the two state departments named in Hinkle's order, did not respond to a request to comment on the issue.
McKinney and Davis are closely watching the outcome of this latest legal wrinkle. Sitting in the living room of their home at Royal Gardens Estates mobile home park during a quiet, post-Christmas day off Monday, the men applied patience to their anticipation. After two decades as a couple and having raised three daughters, the pair have long known how to have love and family without the blessing of state and country. They held a spiritual joining ceremony at their church in July where they put rings on each others' fingers and promised to love each other for life in front of 90 guests.
Expectant and excited over the prospect of making that commitment, McKinney, 57, and Davis, 48, remained restive over Florida's yo-yo journey toward becoming the 36th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. As of Monday, a question of clarification asked by Washington County's clerk of court held the last legal purchase the state's ban on gay marriage still had.
But when the last legal blockade does come down, "The Boys" as they are known to their neighbors at Royal Gardens, will call their daughters, their three grandchildren and a couple of friends to their church to be the first gay couple married there.
For Davis, who grew up attending a conservative Church of Christ in rural Tennessee, and McKinney, a former Baptist, their big day will mark another instance when church and secular laws written hundreds of years ago give way to how people actually live their lives.
"The Bible was written by men," McKinney said. "Times change."
The Rev. Bob Sichta, pastor at the Bradenton Congregational United Church of Christ, said Davis and McKinney will be the first gay couple married in his church. Though he knows a few members of his congregation don't support marriage equity, he said celebrating the church's first gay marriage will take it one more step in the direction of its goal of "justice, fairness and decency." The congregation declared itself as open and affirming to its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members March 30.
"I think that our church as a body has matured," Sichta said. "If we accept the name of Christ on our building, we accept the inclusiveness Christ calls us to be part of."
Under the best circumstances, Davis and McKinney will still have to wait about a week and a half before marrying. Once they obtain a marriage certificate, they will be subject to the state's three-day waiting period before the certificate is legal.
Even if the wait does get a bit protracted, the two men say their years in Florida have been among the best in their relationship. They've never felt discriminated against outside of the marriage issue.
They particularly enjoy feeling free in public and at church to put their arms around each other like any other couple. That wasn't something they could do in Tennessee.
"Where we were, we couldn't hold hands in the grocery store," McKinney said.
The upcoming wedding won't be the first trip to the altar for either man. Both married women earlier in their lives, bowing they said, to social pressure in traditional communities. They later divorced, then lived as single gay men for a number of years.
When they met in 1994, McKinney was busy raising his two daughters while working in the retail shoe industry. After the two became a couple Davis, a food and beverage professional who worked in nightclubs, stopped working full time and took on a role he calls "Mr. Mom." Eventually, an orphaned teenage girl, Lisa, came to live with the couple as a third "daughter."
McKinney said he hopes by being public about being one of the first gay couples to marry in Manatee County they will give hope to LGBT youth who want the same joys and rights as their straight counterparts.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.