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Utahns of the Year: Same-sex marriage plaintiffs

Same-sex marriage plaintiffs will forever be linked to civil rights for gay partners.

Brennan Linsley | The Associated Press Plaintiffs challenging Utah's gay marriage ban, from left, Derek Kitchen, his partner Moudi Sbeity, Kate Call, her partner Karen Archer, Laurie Wood and her partner Kody Partridge stand together after leaving court following a hearing at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in April. The court is to decide if it agrees with a federal judge in Utah who in mid-December overturned a 2004 voter-passed gay marriage ban, saying it violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

They never will forget where they were that Friday afternoon a little more than a year ago, the day that life in Utah took on a distinctly surreal glow with more than a few people asking: "Is this actually happening? Here?"

"They" are the partners in loving relationships who suddenly won the right to have their family commitments recognized by the state.

Hundreds of couples wasted no time. They left work, changed plans — put the rest of their lives on hold — and rushed to county clerks' offices to apply for marriage licenses. For many, it was the culmination of a long-held dream. For some, it carried immediate practical importance, the ability to do such things as make decisions about a loved one's welfare. For others, it was a symbolic repeat of vows made in another state. And for still others, it was simple, passionate spontaneity.

For all, it was an acknowledgment of the deep affection and sense of loyalty each has for the other.

In striking down the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby wrote that the law "perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition."

"Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples," he reasoned. "And while the state cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities."

While Utahns were stunned — many happily so, others the polar opposite — there were six people, three couples, who perhaps didn't think their cause would advance so quickly but were confident that they were on the right side of history.

These six people put their names to the lawsuit challenging Amendment 3. They stood up, stood together and helped history along.

Through 2014, they rode the legal roller coaster — to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Shelby's ruling, and onto the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a stay on the ruling. In October, the high court declined to hear appeals from Utah and four other states. In essence, the denial made same-sex marriage legal in those states.

Because of these Utah plaintiffs — who bravely made public their most private lives — the state took an unlikely position among the vanguard in the biggest civil-rights movement of the day. Forever, their names will be associated with a tidal wave of change that swept the country.

For that, Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, Karen Archer and Kate Call, Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge are The Salt Lake Tribune Utahns of the Year. Their stories start on PAGE A6.

Terry Orme is The Tribune's editor and publisher. Reach him at orme@sltrib.com.

American Fork residents Karen Archer (left) and Kate Call were married in Council Bluffs, Iowa on July 11 by District Associate Judge Craig R. Dreismeier. Photo courtesy of Kate Call.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Attorney Peggy Tomsic speaks in front of plaintiffs Kody Partridge, Laurie Wood, Derek Kitchen, Moudi Sbeity and Kate Call at a rally to celebrate today's legalization of same-sex marriage, Monday October 6, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Plaintiffs Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge listen to speakers as they join Utah Unites for Marriage at City Creek Park in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday, June 25, 2014, to celebrate the historic decision in Kitchen v. Herbert and stepping-stone toward the freedom to marry.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Kitchen v. Herbert plaintiffs Kody Partridge, Laurie Wood, Derek Kitchen, Moudi Sbeity and Kate Call at a rally to celebrate today's legalization of same-sex marriage, Monday October 6, 2014 in Salt Lake City.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Plaintiffs Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen listen to speakers as they joined Utah Unites for Marriage at City Creek Park in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday, June 25, 2014, to celebrate the historic decision in Kitchen v. Herbert and stepping-stone toward the freedom to marry.

Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune Moudi Sbeity, Derek Kitchen, Laurie Wood Kody Partridge, plaintiffs in Kitchen v. Herbert, listen during a program on the anniversary of Judge Robert J. Shelby's ruling that overturned same-sex marriage ban in Utah. The celebration was held at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune Kody Partridge, Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, plaintiffs in Kitchen v. Herbert, along with attorney Peggy Tomsic, hold up champagne for a toast on the anniversary of Judge Robert J. Shelby's ruling that overturned the ban on gay marriage in Utah. The celebration was held at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Moudi Sbeity, Derek Kitchen, Kate Call, (Karen Archer did not attend), Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, (left to right) who were plaintiffs in the original suit versus Utah, attend a press conference with their attorney Peggy Tomsic to comment on the 10th circuit court's ruling on their lawsuit in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, June 25, 2014.

Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune Kate Call, plaintiff in Kitchen v. Herbert, speaks on the anniversary of Judge Robert J. Shelby's ruling that overturned the same-sex marriage ban in Utah. The celebration was held at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Karen Archer (left) and Kate Call (right) talk about how Wednesday's US Supreme Court decision will affect their lawsuit challenging UtahÕs Amendment 3, Thursday, June 27, 2013. The lawsuit that is pending in U.S. District Court in Utah

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Kate Call, center, raises her glass as Moudi Sbeity, right, pops a bottle of champagne as his spouse, Derek Kitchen, left celebrates with the group at the marriage float just prior to the Salt Lake City Pride Parade, Sunday, June 7, 2014.

Plaintiff and gay rights activist Derek Kitchen, center left, hugs his cousin Amelia Davis, left, as Derek's partner Moudi Sbeity hugs his mother Joni Jensen, after leaving court following a hearing at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Thursday, April 10, 2014. The court is to decide if it agrees with a federal judge in Utah who in mid-December overturned a 2004 voter-passed gay marriage ban, saying it violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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