Together for 19 years: A St. George gay couple, Mormon and Catholic, married in California
SPRINGDALE - Many newlyweds advertise their nuptials with tin cans strung from the rear bumper and a shaving-cream message in the car window.
Derek Streeter and Stephen Eiche strapped "Just Married" signs to their backs and marched in a parade.
In Springdale for the Southern Utah Pride Festival, the St. George couple celebrated their recent California wedding after being together for 19 years. Their T-shirts declared the marriage date: Aug. 30, 2008.
"We have talked about this for a really long time," Streeter said. "If it had been legally recognized, we would have done it in 1989."
Streeter and Eiche are one of a number of gay couples who have traveled to California from Utah - even from conservative Washington County, which the U.S. Census Bureau mistakenly estimates has zero same-sex-partner households - to be married.
A California Supreme Court ruling legalized the unions in May, although the decision could be overturned by a ballot measure on Election Day, and the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples June 17.
Streeter took that as a sign. He popped the question to Eiche in a birthday card on that very day. Eiche's sister staged the wedding at her Poway home in San Diego County, where the pair frequently visits to spend time with Eiche's family, including his mother.
"For us, it was like getting married in our hometown," Eiche said. "We knew in St. George it would never happen."
The story of how they met is almost as unlikely.
Eiche, 46, grew up in Tomahawk, Wis., one of 12 children in a devout Catholic family. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and eventually landed at Clearfield's Hill Air Force Base as a computer specialist.
Streeter, 59, hails from London, where as a teenager he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served an LDS mission in France and later worked at the Missionary Training Center in Provo for 16 years.
Both came from backgrounds - religious and military - that discouraged being openly gay. Both had moved to Salt Lake City in hopes of finding a more welcoming community.
One Sunday in 1989, they locked eyes at St. Mark's Cathedral, a downtown Episcopal church. Eiche and Streeter insist the age-old clich is true: It was love at first sight. They count that day, April 23, as their anniversary. As theater lovers, they relish that it's also considered to be Shakespeare's birthday.
The couple settled in St. George after an eight-year stint in Minnesota that left them weary of cold weather. Streeter directs an English as Second Language program in Cedar City, and Eiche works as an accountant for a St. George paving company.
They spend weekends visiting art galleries, attending plays and exploring Utah's National Parks. They make frequent Saturday trips to nearby Las Vegas - not to gamble, but to shop.
The gregarious couple are well known - even in San Diego, where they visit several times a year to see family.
"Everyone just loves them out here," said Eiche's sister Norma Flood, who hosted the couple's wedding in Poway. "Most of the store owners in San Diego know Steve and Derek. I'll go places and no one really knows me, but everyone knows them."
George and Cherie Stoddard threw an impromptu reception at their Ivins home after learning about Eiche's and Streeter's marriage.
"They are as committed a couple as I've known in my lifetime," said George Stoddard, who is a marriage and family counselor. "It's a huge thing for them personally, but also, I believe, for the institution of marriage."
Stoddard has donated to efforts in California to defeat Proposition 8, the fall ballot initiative that would stop gay marriage in California.
If the proposition passes, California Attorney General Jerry Brown has said in published reports, it would not be retroactive: Same-sex marriages, like Eiche's and Streeter's, that already have been performed still would be recognized.
But backers of the gay-marriage ban argue, in the official voters' information guide, that a "yes" vote on Proposition 8 means "only marriage between a man and a woman will be valid or recognized in California, regardless of when or where performed."
It's possible the issue would be settled in court.
The ballot measure prompted Streeter and Eiche to be married before November - they gave Eiche's sister about a month's notice to prep her backyard for the Labor Day weekend wedding.
The couple asked a Unitarian Universalist minister to officiate. They wanted their marriage recognized by a church, even if it is ultimately dissolved in California.
"We have a commitment that is, and has been, very strong and sure," Streeter said. "For now, at least, we are recognized by a church . . . and a government."
After November, they know their marriage still will be valid in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.
And, maybe, California.