The wedding of Utahns Kate Call and Karen Archer three years ago was an austere affair, held in an Iowa courthouse with strangers for witnesses because their family and friends could not afford to make the trip.
On Wednesday, an appeals court ruling gave them hope that other gay men and women will be able to legally marry in Utah soon. A 2-1 decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to marry.
“I am so happy,” said Call, one of the plaintiffs in the case leading to the ruling by the Denver-based appeals court. “I am so proud to have been part of this process.”
Call — speaking on behalf of herself and Archer, who could not attend a Wednesday news conference because of illness — said she was “rolling in joy” over the ruling, which she described as “a victory for humanity.”
The other plaintiffs in the case — Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, who are engaged, and Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, who were wed in December during a 17-day window when same-sex couples could legally marry in Utah — also described themselves as proud to be part of a historic decision.
Kitchen predicted that the Utah ban on same-sex marriage will not survive much longer.
“It feels wonderful to be one of the many, many same-sex couples across the country that are being respected and are offered dignity by the court system,” he said.
Partridge, who was crying tears of joy, said the decision makes clear that civil same-sex marriages do not impinge on religious rights.
“It’s a big day,” she said.
At a rally in City Creek Park on Wednesday night, hundreds of people, waving rainbow flags and hoisting signs with slogans like “Love Always Wins” and “June 25th 2014, Victory, LOVE = LOVE,” came out to support the court’s ruling.
Romy and Michelle Berrett-Muir, the second couple to get married in Utah last year, got to the park an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin.
“It’s a celebration,” Michelle, 44, said of the rally. “It’s nice to be able to get together with a group of people who believe what you believe.”
When the Utah marriage window closed in January, Michelle and Romy, 47, lost the legal recognition afforded to married couples. The two said they are hopeful the Supreme Court will ultimately force Utah to recognize their marriage.
The evening’s lineup of speakers included former Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman, who now serves as co-chairman of Utah Unites for Marriage, the group that organized the rally.
“Marriage equality is a fundamental human right,” Tolman told the crowd.
“This is not a religious issue. This is not a political issue,” Tolman said. “This is a legal and a moral issue, and that’s why the courts are getting it right.”
Throngs of supporters cheered when Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, stepped forward to the podium.
“We are at the crossroads of our politics,” Gill said. “We are all citizens, or we are not. We are all protected by and can seek shelter under the umbrella of the Constitution, or we cannot.”
Many conservatives in Utah were disheartened by the ruling, but they have not given up in their fight to keep marriage between a man and a woman.
The Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank, promised to help gather a legal team to defend the state’s gay marriage ban.
“Any appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court is the main event and may decide the future of marriage for decades,” according to a statement from Sutherland. “Defenders of marriage must be prepared. It’s disappointing to have a few federal judges decide that they can unilaterally override the decision of Utah voters to preserve marriage as society’s way of preserving children’s opportunity to be reared by a mother and father.”
Gov. Gary Herbert also issued a statement saying he was disappointed with Wednesday’s decision.
“I believe states have the right to determine their laws regarding marriage,” he said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who made headlines in May by saying that it was almost a certainty that gay marriage will become legal, said he was not surprised by the decision but was disappointed.
“I disagree with the court’s reasoning and hope the Supreme Court ultimately adheres to the original understanding of the Constitution and allows each state to define marriage for itself,” he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said Utahns have made clear their wishes on the subject and those wishes should not be superseded by a judge.
“Additionally, protecting the First Amendment and religious institutions’ rights and ability to uphold and act in accordance with their beliefs and principles must be a priority,” he said.
Other politicians applauded the ruling. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who said he revisited the joy he felt when he married 35 couples in December, noted Utah’s key role in a legal process that may affect the entire nation.
The state “is playing a leading role in one of the major issues in our day for social justice” Becker said. “For me, it is exciting.”
Utah legislator Jim Dabakis, who is openly gay and was married in December, said of the ruling: “I am joyous, as I know hundreds of thousands of LGBT folks and their families are, all across the great state of Utah. This is a pro-family decision and it fits squarely with true Utah family values — love, kindness and a fair playing field for all. It’s wonderful to see Utah once again lead the country in gay rights.”
The Democratic candidate for Utah attorney general, Charles Stormont, said that as attorney general, he would immediately drop the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, because it is “an enormous waste of money and we should be fighting to protect people’s rights, not to take them away.”
Religious groups were split on the ruling.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement saying: “The Church has been consistent in its support of marriage between a man and a woman and teaches that all people should be treated with respect. In anticipation that the case will be brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, it is our hope that the nation’s highest court will uphold traditional marriage.”
Meanwhile, a group called Mormons for Equality said many LDS Church members around the country were “celebrating today’s ruling as a positive step toward protecting more families and children in our society.
“We appreciate in particular that the judges clearly addressed the distinction between the civil and religious marriage, and affirmed that ‘religious institutions remain as free as they always have been to practice their sacraments and traditions as they see fit.’ ”
And Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, released a statement saying the decision ”has brought us one giant step closer to the day when all Americans will have the freedom to marry. This first federal appellate ruling affirms what more than 20 other courts all across the country have found: There is no good reason to perpetuate unfair marriage discrimination any longer.”
John Mejia, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said in a news release, “This is a proud day for everybody in the state of Utah, and everybody across the country who supports marriage equality. ”
The ACLU had submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiffs in the Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit. The ACLU also has filed a lawsuit in Utah federal court seeking recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples who were wed during the 17-day period when they were legal.
The ruling generated excitement and joy at the Utah Pride Center, where supporters cheered, clapped and waved vibrant mini pride flags in celebration. Mark Lawrence, director of Restore Our Humanity, a legal defense fund backing the fight for the right of same-sex couples to marry, said he felt the plaintiffs would win.
However, he added, “It doesn’t sink in until they actually announce it and that’s what made it real and you can’t be prepared for that. It’s very surreal.”
At a press conference at the Pride Center, members of the LGBT community directed messages at Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes.
“Stop spending millions of tax dollars to fight against LGBT families and instead ... secure their place on the right side of history and stand on the side of love and stand on the side of families,” Christopher Wharton said.
Matthew Spencer, Restore Our Humanity communications director, said, “You swore an oath to support and obey, defend the Constitution of the United States. We call on you here and now to honor that promise. The courts have spoken. Honor your commitment. Defend the constitutional right of all Utah citizens.”
And Stormy Simon, president of Overstock.com, which assisted in the funding for the case, also gave the state a message.
“To fight love is a bad, bad thing and that’s what I say to Governor Herbert,” she said. “Quit fighting the inevitable.”