Gomberg: That chaotic, unexpected day when the world changed and I got married with my purse still slung over my shoulder

(Courtesy of Kelly Favero) After a federal judge struck down the Utah law banning same-sex marriage on Dec. 20, 2013, Marina and Elenor Gomberg were among the many couples who quickly got hitched. They loved it, but wished their outfits didn't inadvertently match.

It was my mom’s birthday, so Elenor and I were planning to go to Ogden that evening for a nice dinner. I was looking forward to a night focused on the woman who brought me into this world. And then everything changed. It was the kind of jolt that causes your internal dialogue to shift from intelligent thought to HOLY CRAP! The kind of jolt that makes your whole body jump and then you bang your knee into the conference-room table.

On Dec. 20, 2013, same-sex marriage in Utah of all places was suddenly legal. I NEEDED TO BE WITH ELENOR POST HASTE!

While I didn’t think of it in the moment, we were about to add a new anniversary — our third! — to the calendar, which might sound weird, but that’s just kind of how things went if you were in a same-sex relationship in Utah.

See, our first anniversary is Dec. 14, 2004 — the day we became a couple. Our dating exclusivity seemed like an important milestone when we were young and didn’t imagine we’d ever be able to marry. I mean, at that time, it had barely been a year since Utah’s Amendment 3 specifically excluded same-sex couples from legal recognition.

But by 2009, we decided that even if the government wasn’t going to recognize our union, we knew plenty of people who would. So, we got some fancy dresses and threw a party. Every last detail was planned to our delight. The flowers, the candles, the food and scripted vows. Ah, anniversary number two, that of our commitment ceremony.

I guess I didn’t think we’d actually ever have a third, and that certainly wasn’t on my mind as I was sitting in a Friday afternoon work meeting when I heard that the honorable Judge Robert Shelby had deemed Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

Earlier that year, our sweet and courageous friends, Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, along with two other brave couples, Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, and Karen Archer and Kate Call had cooked up a brilliant roadmap to marriage equality. And what had seemed like a steep uphill battle actually ended up being a flower petal-lined staircase to the majestic heights of legal marriage equality in Utah.

Shelby’s ruling made same-sex marriage legal immediately.

Knee meet conference table.

After five minutes (probably just a long 30 seconds) of rapid texting and relishing the cheers and hugs from my colleagues, I rushed out the door to get hitched while the hitching was good.

I called my mom as I ran to my car to apologize for possibly being a little late for dinner, and I just remember her screaming, “Go get married! I’ll have plenty of other birthdays!”

Elenor and I met up with two of our besties (another couple) within an hour of the announcement, threw back a shot of whiskey and started filling out downloaded marriage forms. El took one for the team and offered to be the “groom.”

My excitement and bewilderment (gay marriage in UTAH?!) was only surpassed by my nervousness that we might have missed our window of opportunity. News had spread fast that the appellate court could put a quick halt on our ability to marry, so it was all at once joyous and moderately panicked mayhem.

I wasn’t even inside the county building before I was a sobbing mess (you would have cried, too, if you were running into the joint like a member of the McCallister family through the airport in “Home Alone” when a total stranger shouted to redirect us saying, “If you’re looking to get married, it’s in the South Building. Second floor. AND CONGRATULATIONS!”).

By the time we arrived, there was already a long line of elated and anxious couples. The news media, droves of wedding officiants, and fabulous allies — even straight-parented families with kids — all gathered around to witness and take part in the momentous occasion.

The air inside became humid as more celebrating lovers and loving celebrators crammed in the lobby with winter coats and tears of joy. If jubilation has a smell, it’s that of fresh flowers and hot wool.

Everyone was helping everyone — whether we knew each other or not — from formally witnessing others’ ceremonies to becoming impromptu wedding photographers. Having already been an officiant myself, I overzealously (read: lovingly but daftly) conducted the ceremony of our friends.

Words are hard when feelings are so soft.

And amidst the merriment and chaos, it was suddenly our turn. I found myself making eyes at Elenor while I could see then-Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s famous red sweater vest in my left periphery and a sea of onlookers in the right. I think the mayor said something about sickness and health, but there was a period of time when I couldn’t hear a thing.

She and I were locked in a gaze that muted the world around us and slowed all of that chaos to a sudden halt. Her eyes were stormy that day, but all mine in that moment. For a split second, it was just us two.

But as quickly as the quiet had come, it vanished.

Oh, hi Mayor Becker. And Channel 2. And friends and enthusiastic strangers. It’s nice to see all of you.

And that was that.

We were sweating and crying. We had our coats thrown over our arms and our purses still on our shoulders. And we added our third and final anniversary. I can imagine it no other way (well, I mean, maybe we wouldn’t have had accidentally matching outfits, but you get it).

From there, we went to my mom’s, though we were a bit late, and were surprised to see that her celebration had been transformed into an impromptu wedding reception, so different from our meticulously planned commitment ceremony and yet so special.

It’s funny how the radically unplanned can be so perfectly imperfect.

Happy anniversary, Elenor, and to the other 1,200 couples celebrating. And happy birthday Mama!

Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.

Return to Story