The marriage proposal was made via text message Dec. 20, 2013:
"WE WON! WE WON! WE WON! Will you marry me?"
If Peggy Tomsic's method of asking seemed to lack romantic flair, then it more than made up for it in meaning.
Minutes before Tomsic popped the question, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby had declared Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The stunning and unexpected ruling five days before Christmas took immediate effect, allowing gay couples to marry in Utah for the first time.
Saturday marks the first anniversary of that historic 53-page decision.
For Tomsic, the victory was doubly sweet.
She was the attorney who had argued the case before Shelby — just 16 days earlier — on behalf of three Utah couples and now she was asking her partner of nearly 15 years, Cindy Bateman, to cement, now legally, their long-held commitment.
"You won what?" Tomsic's intended replied.
After an explanation, the attorney got the answer she'd hoped for: "Of course."
They married hours later at the Salt Lake County Government Center with their son, Marcelino, grinning by their side. The couple were among hundreds who had rushed to county clerks' offices for marriage licenses, often tying the knot in hallway ceremonies performed for free by church pastors, Internet-ordained ministers and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
Amid the pandemonium came cheers, tears, "I do's," and the oft-repeated question: Can you believe this is happening in Utah?
"It was an enormous hill [to get over]," said Tomsic, whose family dined on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches at home after the wedding. "I think so many people had told us that Utah was not the right place, this was not the right time and were really, very pessimistic about our chances."
For her part, Tomsic always believed the battle would be won.
"I just didn't know when."
Shelby's decision — the first to come after the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — would become a landmark of its own; a road map that would be cited by other judges in triggering a landslide of change that would more than double the number of states that allow gay marriage.
A year ago, when Shelby, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said the protections of the 14th Amendment and due process related to marriage should apply to all, regardless of sexual identity, same-sex marriage existed in 16 states. Today that number is 35, along with the District of Columbia.
Utah — which had barred gay marriage through two state laws and a voter-approved state constitutional amendment — appealed Shelby's ruling, but lost the fight twice: First, at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and again on Oct. 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped the issue, declining to hear five marriage-equality cases. With that move, the justices effectively legalized gay marriage in Utah and 10 other states.
"We had no idea how quickly the dominoes would fall," said Tomsic, who with Bateman had consciously decided not to marry elsewhere. "It's a huge shift."
It's also a fight that ended far faster than expected, said Mark Lawrence, director of Restore Our Humanity, the tiny nonprofit that asked Tomsic and fellow attorney James Magleby to challenge Utah's marriage laws.
"We didn't expect to win until at least 2016," Lawrence said. "We had a timeline laid out based on other federal cases, and we thought we were going to trial. So when the [Shelby] ruling came down, it just rocked everybody."
Lawrence contends the impact of that decision stretches deeper than marriage or the practicalities of adoption, insurance benefits, or joint taxes. It's about the fair application of civil rights and endowing those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community with a sense of equality that others have taken for granted.
"We in the LGBT community have for decades accepted the fact that we were second-class citizens," Lawrence said. "Now, we feel whole."
To mark the anniversary of the ruling, Restore Our Humanity plans to hold its first annual "Shelby Friday" event Friday, Lawrence said. The party is a fundraiser to help pay off the nearly $700,000 in legal bills incurred in the case and nominate the first recipients of the Robert J. Shelby Humanitarian Awards, which will be handed out in January.
Other community anniversary events include a party hosted by Equality Utah at Trolley Square on Saturday and a staged reading of the play "Marry Christmas," produced by Salt Lake City's Plan-B Theater Company.
Plan-B decided to mark the anniversary before anyone was sure there would be one. Producing director Jerry Rapier started tossing around the idea in those first days after Shelby's ruling, before it was clear whether his decision would stand.
"It was very personal to our company in many ways," said Rapier, one of four from the troupe to marry after the ruling. "Part of our mission is to stage at least one piece each season that is of LGBTQ interest, and so there was that element to it."
Rapier turned to Elaine Jarvik, who scripted "Marry Christmas."
"There was nobody that made more sense to trust these stories to than Elaine because of her career as a journalist and her skill as a playwright," he said. "She has a unique combination of skills that not a lot of writers have."
Jarvik interviewed more than a dozen couples to draft the play and found herself shedding her journalistic detachment. "When you hear all those stories, you get emotional right along with them," she said, "... especially in this case because there was so much joy. And leading up to that joy, there was often so much anguish."
Kim Blackett and his husband, Brent Schneider, are one of the couples whose lives are chronicled. Together for 28 years, the two married in Washington, D.C., in 2012. Fearing a loophole would allow Utah to leave their union unrecognized, they married again Dec. 23 at the Davis County clerk's office.
"It meant a lot more having it legal in our home state," said Blackett, a graphic designer and actor who will portray himself in the play. "We had actually been trying to figure out what state we were going to retire in so our marriage would be recognized. Now we don't have to move."
And when the couple encountered opponents of same-sex marriage, Blackett said, "it didn't bite like it used to."
"Marry Christmas" is filled with humor, emotion, even fear.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told Jarvik he was "terrified" that "there could have been some crazy person who wanted to shoot these people [at the county offices]. ... There was this incredible thing unfolding in front of me, but in the back of my mind I'm hoping something terrible doesn't happen in the middle of all this joy."
Jarvik portrays the state's arguments against same-sex marriage with a character who represents Utah. And that proved to be tricky.
"The hard part was trying to get the tone right. Because it is easy to poke fun at the state's arguments as they built them over those months," she said. "I truly wanted to try hard not to make them be the obvious villain, because there are many people — and I know these people — who believe that there shouldn't be same-sex marriage. And I don't want to deny them their right to their opinion."
Despite the year that's passed, many conservatives who opposed gay marriage continue to struggle with Shelby's ruling and remain uncertain about its full impact on Utah.
Answering the questions about whether same-sex marriage will devalue the institution of marriage, harm children or increase the acceptance of gay relationships may take time to sort out, according to Bill Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation. Opinions didn't change with the swipe of a judge's pen.
"What I sense is that there is very much a feeling of resignation," he said. "There's just going to be some grappling to understand what happens now and what this means."
That may come with changes to Utah laws related to some aspects of marriage and family life and in other court rulings that uphold man-woman marriage laws.
After 27 years of keeping their relationship more private than public, Blackett contends the changes aren't necessarily so easy on the pro-gay-marriage side either. As a couple, they've never held hands or showed other expressions of affection in public or spoken about their relationship as openly as their heterosexual friends. Even using the word "husband" is difficult.
"I get a bit of a shocked look," Schneider said.
The couple hope that the sold-out play will be seen not just by those who support gay marriage, but by lawmakers and others who are still working to understand or make peace with the issue.
They also would like a chance to thank Shelby and tell him how much the decision has meant to their family and others.
"When someone sees what's right and has the courage to go against what's popular, that shows such personal integrity, " Schneider said. "I would want him to know how much his integrity is appreciated."