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Salt Lake County offices see a crush of same-sex marriages

Published December 20, 2013 9:59 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Add to Utah's long history of pioneers Michael Ferguson and Seth Anderson — the first same-sex couple legally married in the Beehive State.

The owners of The Queens' Tea were at work when they heard from an attorney that federal Judge Robert J. Shelby had struck down Utah's Amendment 3, a ban on same-sex marriage. They shared a panicked look — "What do we do? Do we go? Yeah, we're going" — scrambled to lock up the tea shop and sped to the county office.

There, they had the honor of informing the clerk's staff of Shelby's decision, and they were asked to wait while the workers sought official confirmation. Minutes later, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill walked in. They braced for bad news, but, Ferguson says, "He smiled and said, 'Hello' and 'Congratulations.' "

They were the first of more than 100 gay couples issued marriage licenses Friday by Salt Lake County.

An hour after the first marriage, around 4 p.m., it was hard to walk through the halls of the Salt Lake County offices without interrupting somebody's nuptials. Among those officiating marriages were Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis and his partner, Stephen Justesen, joined the line for a license as TV news camera operators mobbed the clerk's 200-square-foot waiting area.

"It's taking all the romance out of it," Dabakis quipped.

Dabakis said he was only in Utah on the day of the ruling by coincidence. Dabakis and Justesen were scheduled to fly to Mexico for the holiday Thursday, but their flight was canceled due to the snowstorm.

The couple rescheduled for Saturday, but the two-day delay ended up coinciding with the same sex marriage ruling. When Dabakis heard, he was sitting in his office. "It just was a lot like a dream," he said. "It just was surreal."

Dabakis added that he is optimistic about Utah's future, saying that most younger Utahns favor marriage equality. He also recalled seeing numerous gay couples with children at City Creek — where he stopped by Friday night to pick up last-minute Christmas presents — as well as at the county offices where marriages were performed.

"This joining of family," he said, "is a good thing."

Possibly the afternoon's biggest cheer at the county offices erupted at the Rev. Curtis L. Price's pronouncement of case plaintiffs Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge as wife and wife.

Partridge, an English teacher at Rowland Hall, was teaching class and Wood, an associate professor of English at Utah Valley University, was grading papers when a friend texted to say they'd won.

At the clerk's office, they met Price — who says he had "grabbed a set of vows lying around" before rushing over from Salt Lake City's First Baptist Church — in a lobby area, and he agreed to perform the ceremony on the spot.

"This is our moment, and why wait?" Partridge said. Laurie added: "This is the best holiday ever."

As marriages began taking place in Salt Lake County, three couples showed up farther south in Utah County, also hoping to tie the knot. But Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson said he turned them away.

"I hadn't seen the ruling nor had my county attorney," Thompson explained. "Until we understand officially what the ramifications are we're not going to change our policy."

One of the three couples, Terri Henry and Penny Kirby, of Springville, said that instead of a marriage license, they were given a letter explaining the county's position. "In 15 minutes," Henry said, choking back tears, "we saw them give licenses to two straight couples."

They rushed to Salt Lake County for a marriage license but were too late. "One day more," Henry said.

The Salt Lake County office issued licenses to all those who were in line as of 5 p.m., closing the doors shortly after 7 p.m.

Ferguson, who proposed to Anderson on a tea farm in Japan on the first of July, said less-lucky couples should fear not; it's just a matter of time.

"If they do, though, the arc of justice, it's going to bend in our favor," he said. "And we have confidence in the legal process and in the goodness and the decency of the human heart."

He first met the Phoenix-based Anderson on Facebook under "People you may know" and sent him a message. After messaging for a while and talking on the phone, Ferguson visited him in Arizona and, six months later, Anderson moved to Salt Lake City. In addition to owning The Queens' Tea, both are graduate students at the University of Utah.

They joked that blazing trails is a Utah tradition.

"My polygamous great-grandparents," Anderson said, "would be very proud of me."

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper

Tribune reporters Erin Alberty and Jim Dalrymple II contributed to this story.