A cheer exploded from the opening doors of the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office Monday at 8 a.m., shooting like a shock wave down a twisting line of ecstatic couples until it reached Coral Mangus and Andrea Dahl.
Gay marriages had begun again in Salt Lake City.
Mangus and Dahl stood at a mid-point in the line, just before it trailed off from one floor to another, and as the cheers bounced around the building they smiled. 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 the court decision striking down Utah’s ban on same sex marriage, they knew they had to act. Dahl said she was driving when she heard the news.
And she was crying.
Like hundreds of other same sex Utah couples, neither woman expected her home state to open the doors for same sex marriages so soon. The two women had planned to tie the knot next year in Minnesota, near Mangus’ family, but early Monday morning they jumped at the chance to marry in Utah — a place that, despite its conservative reputation, they described as filled with beauty and good people.
Waiting in line just a few dozen yards ahead of Mangus and Dahl, Nathan London and Alan Britton wore matching green shirts and identical wedding rings. Like many hopeful couples, the men — who have been together for nine years and live in Cottonwood Heights — showed up Sunday night and camped outside the door of the county clerk’s office building. London said it was "horribly cold," though someone else who also spent the night brought a gas-powered heater. It wasn’t so bad.
Rusty James and Melvin Nimer, of Midvale, also camped out, though they didn’t show up until 1:30 a.m. Hours later, the men had finally worked their way through the line, obtained a marriage licence and headed downstairs to find an officiant. James said the day had been an emotional roller coaster, "but a wonderful one."
Though many of the couples waiting in line expressed confidence that they would ultimately get a licence Monday, that outcome was far from a foregone conclusion. During much of the morning the state worked to halt the weddings, asking U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby for a stay of his Friday ruling that would have put plans for new same-sex nuptials on ice.
Shelby rejected those efforts, though the state immediately moved on to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver with a similar request. Utah County — the second most populous in the state — as well as others, refused to issue marriage licences to same sex couples.
Those efforts hardly damped the mood in Salt Lake City. After 11 a.m., when word reached the office that Shelby had rejected the state’s call for a stay, a roar of approval reverberated through the halls. And 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.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherri Swensen said the crowd numbered about 700 people. By mid-afternoon, 312 had been married, eclipsing the previous record of 82 marriages in a single day. Most of the marriages Monday were same sex couples, Swensen said, though there were a handful of opposite-sex couples, as well.
Among those same-sex couples 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 pot luck in the park; Heather Collins and Jax Collins, who began sharing a last name after their ceremony in January 2012.
And Mangus and Dahl.
The two women spent nearly seven hours in line Monday. While they were waiting, their nephew Sam Smith and his mother were racing to Salt Lake City from New Mexico, a 10-hour overnight drive that came early in order to be there for the wedding. Smith and a handful of other family members made it to the county clerk’s office by early afternoon, and at 1:30 p.m. they stood with Mangus and Dahl in a small wedding party.
Dahl said the marriage mattered to the couple because they would qualify for scores of new benefits granted only to legals spouses. And because they felt validated. Dahl, who has read Shelby’s decision, also 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 camera flashes strobed all around them. They kissed. They hugged their family, and then, with a borrowed black pen, they signed their marriage licence.
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