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Urgency for same-sex marriage-seekers in Utah

Published December 23, 2013 1:15 pm

Legal challenge • District judge denied a stay Monday but there still is uncertainty.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

There were feelings of love. Of excitement. Of "Finally!"

But one feeling overpowered many of the same-sex couples waiting in line at clerks offices in Salt Lake, Weber and other counties Monday morning: urgency.

They all knew that while they were anxiously waiting in line hoping to get a license to marry, a federal judge was hearing arguments about whether he should stay the ruling he issued Friday, which declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby denied a stay, but early Monday, couples in line were uncertain whether their right to marry would disappear in just a few short hours.

Coral Mangus and Andrea Dahl stood at a mid-point in the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office line, just before it trailed off from one floor to another. The two women met 25 years ago — "she exuded amazing energy" Dahl would later say of the moment she first saw Mangus at a dance — and they had a commitment ceremony just two years later.

"We vowed to make this commitment forever," Dahl said, "and we have."

But when the West Valley City couple learned of Friday's court decision, they knew they had to act. Dahl said she was driving when she heard the news.

And she was crying.

And speechless.

The two women spent nearly seven hours in line Monday. According to Salt Lake County Clerk Sherri Swensen, the woman were among about 700 people who showed up. The county issued 353 licenses Monday, eclipsing the previous record of 82 licences issued on a single day.

Most of the marriages were same-sex couples, Swensen said, though there were a handful of opposite-sex couples, as well.

Dahl said the marriage mattered to the couple because they would qualify for scores of new benefits granted only to legal spouses. It also made them feel validated.

Dahl believes gay marriage in Utah is here to stay.

"I trust that justice will rule," she said.

Just before Mangus and Dahl left the building Monday, they held bouquets — the ones they had left over from giving flowers to other newly married couples, as well as to the county clerks — and read their vows as cameras flashed around them. They kissed. They hugged their family members and then, with a borrowed black pen, they signed their marriage licence.

In Weber County, public affairs director Holin Willbanks said that as of 10:20 a.m., when the line finally diminished at the clerk's office, the county had issued 60 licenses. Officiants at the hotel across the street said they had married 57 couples by that time.

Spencer Ward and Patrick Friederman were the first in line in Ogden — they arrived at 10 p.m. Sunday evening — but they let another couple in front of them: Gage Church and Tim Sharp. Church, the pastor of Congregational United Church of Christ, was pushed to the front so that he could get his license, get married and start marrying others across the street at the Hampton Inn and Suites.

Sharp said they came to the Weber County Clerk's Office Saturday, when it was announced that the office would be open for an hour to issue licenses. They were there so Church could officiate weddings, Sharp said, not to get married themselves.

However, once he saw the emotions of others who were turned away after the office didn't open as planned, he was moved to propose to his partner of 20 years. He popped the question inside the parking garage at the Weber Center.

And at 8 a.m. Monday morning, they received the first same-sex marriage license issued in Weber County.

"There was a sense of, 'This is really happening,' " Church said. "But I also was like, 'We need to hurry.' "

"Tick-tock, tick-tock," Ward nervously said to Friedeman as printer issues snagged their application process at about 8:15 a.m. Monday morning.

But with license finally in hand, the couple literally sprinted across Washington Boulevard into the Hampton Inn and Suites, where they were wed, side-by-side with their two best friends.

In Salt Lake County, the threat of a stay hardly damped the mood. After 11:20 a.m., when word reached the office that Shelby had rejected a stay, a roar of approval reverberated through the halls. Every few minutes, smaller cheers rang out from the lobby, where more than 20 clergy members — many with rainbow scarves draping their shoulders — stood ready to marry anyone with a licence. The air was electric, buzzing with Christmas carols, flower petals and anticipation.

Among the same-sex couples that married in Salt Lake County were Brian Benington and Duane Jennings, who spoke some of their vows in Afrikaans to honor Benington's South African heritage; Andrew Alisea and Sam Evans, who have two cats but no kids; Sydney Rowsey and Joanna Smith, who met decades ago in a college psychology class; Deb Anderson and P. J. Jennings who got together five years ago at a friend's potluck in the park; and Heather and Jax Collins, who began sharing a last name after their ceremony in January 2012.

By midmorning in Weber County, there was just one quiet couple filling out an application in the clerk's office. It was a far cry from hours earlier, when cheers had erupted every time a couple left the office with a marriage license in hand.

"They want their rights," Church had said of those crowding the halls. "They want their love recognized. It's chaotic but it's a joyful chaos."

jdalrymple@sltrib.com

jmiller@sltrib.com