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Couple suing Utah County for refusal to grant marriage license

Published December 25, 2013 5:14 pm

Courts • Woman says she and partner have faced years of hostility.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Shelly Eyre says Utah County's denial of a marriage license to her and her longtime partner was "the last straw in a long line of insults."

Eyre and her partner, Cheryl Haws, have notified Utah County that they intend to sue because the county refused to grant them a marriage license — even after U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby reaffirmed Monday that gay marriages should proceed without a stay.

Utah County is among five counties not providing licenses despite Shelby's Friday decision overturning Utah's ban on gay marriage.

"The point of going to Utah County is that this is where we live and pay taxes and raised our kids and have a business," Eyre said. "We wanted to get married here."

Eyre and Haws have been a couple for 8½ years and have had a commitment ceremony in Hawaii. While there, they gathered sea stones and shells to represent friends and family who could not make the trip. They took the shells and stones with them to the Utah County clerk's office Monday, where they hoped to marry.

Instead they received a notice of refusal from County Clerk Bryan Thompson.

"This just put us around the bend," Eyre said, recalling years of hostility she and Haws have faced.

Eyre and Haws together reared Haws' two youngest children of seven, Eyre said, but the community has struggled to accept Eyre as part of the family. When one of Haws' sons died, Eyre's name "mysteriously" disappeared from the obituary, she said. At the funeral, mourners who had known Haws for 20 years walked right past the grieving mother and refused to speak to her.

At another son's Eagle Scout ceremony, Haws and Eyre sat down only to have several other guests stand up and move away from them.

"I was in the bathroom," Eyre said, "and heard people say, 'I can't believe those lesbians would come and desecrate the church.' "

Even day-to-day business is disrupted, she said. Their insurance requires a separate policy for each woman, for example.

When the Utah County clerk denied them a marriage license, they decided to fight the decision.

The couple returned to the office with a notice of claim — a required document alerting a government agency that a plaintiff intends to sue.

Thompson confirmed Tuesday that he received the notice of claim and denied further comment.

Tribune reporter Matthew Piper contributed to this story.

ealberty@sltrib.com

Twitter: @erinalberty