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Sean P. Means: Witnessing Utah marriage history, and happiness, in the news and on social media

Published December 24, 2013 1:16 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

So how many people in Utah have spent the last week telling their out-of-state friends and relations to stuff their "how backward is Utah?" jokes where the green Jell-O doesn't shine?

It still seems unreal that Utah — a state whose conservative leanings are nationally recognized and mocked — last week became, through a federal judge's ruling, the 18th state in the nation where gay people could marry legally.

Granted, the ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby — which says that "the state's current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason" — will face an appeal from the state of Utah, and the case likely will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the weekend, at least, it was thrilling to witness — via the news or social media — the outpouring of joy and amazement across Utah, not only from gay and lesbian couples but anyone who wishes them well. (Some straight friends who had vowed never to marry until gay people could do the same on Friday changed their relationship status to "engaged," in a nice "put-up-or-shut-up" moment.)

As dozens of couples rushed last Friday to the Salt Lake County Clerk's office, where before 3 p.m. District Attorney Sim Gill had given the green light to issue marriage licenses, those couples couldn't wait to tell the news via Twitter or Facebook — essentially inviting the world to come to their impromptu weddings.

Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson were the first gay couple to get a marriage license in Salt Lake County on Friday. When they posted a photo of themselves with the license on Twitter, it was retweeted more than 1,500 times within 24 hours — and "favorited" more than 2,000 times.

Couples saw their celebrations become international news, their wedding pictures transmitted via news wires and video aired on national news programs.

The cable news outlets seemed a bit slow to react. For a couple of hours after the news broke Friday, CNN barely mentioned it, instead concentrating on the other big news in gay rights: The phony brouhaha over "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson's anti-gay comments, A&E's suspension of Robertson, and the furious response by conservatives who said Robertson's "First Amendment rights" were being infringed upon. (Gee, I must have been sick the day my constitutional law prof taught us that the First Amendment guarantees everyone a megaphone on a stupid reality show.)

Rachel Maddow led with the Utah story on her MSNBC show Friday evening, and her comments reflected the national sense of shock that Utah, of all places, had legal gay marriage before 32 other states.

While 17 states had legalized gay marriage before Utah, through state court rulings or legislative action, "this one feels different," Maddow said. "Does this … just feel like a bigger deal than all the others because, forgive me, it's freaking Utah?!?"

Maddow and her guest, New York University constitutional law professor Kenji Yoshino, concluded that the ruling is different not just because it happened in conservative Utah but because a federal judge found that a state's gay-marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution.

By the way, the graphic behind Maddow's shoulder during all this read: "Hell's weather forecast today: Snowballs!"

When the local TV coverage Friday night flipped to the side opposed to same-sex marriage, it looked like there was a party going on but they weren't invited. Hey, it's no fun realizing the last people in your corner are that "Duck Dynasty" guy and the Westboro Baptist Church.

KSL was a hoot to sample on Friday. KSL Newsradio's regular evening anchor, Scott Seeger, was bolstered not only by morning talk-show host Doug Wright but by Deseret News editor Paul Edwards — who, the announcers reminded the audience at regular intervals, has both a Ph.D. and a law degree.

Edwards — who presumably was responsible for that Henny Penny editorial on the D-News's front page Saturday — intoned gravely about the "activist judge" (using the conservative definition of "activist judge," which translates as "any judge who rules in a way I disagree with") and sparred with Sim Gill about legal precedents and the likelihood of an appeal of Shelby's ruling. Wright, meanwhile, uttered concern for the gay couples who were getting married in spite of "the mess" and "the uncertainty" of the legal case, as if mess and uncertainty weren't normal elements of every marriage.

Then there was Gayle Ruzicka, the poor thing. KUTV interviewed the conservative lobbyist Friday night at her home, and the appearance didn't do her any favors. With lighting that gave her face an odd green glow, Ruzicka looked and sounded like The Grinch puzzling over why the Whos down in Whoville were still singing. Either that or she was preparing to dispatch her flying monkeys.

Those monkeys will be busy in the coming weeks, laboring to undo the happiness that Judge Shelby's decision allowed to flow. For now, though, there are a lot of Utahns who will celebrate a Christmas season and a new year like none they have ever seen.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.