by Orlin Roe Owen and Gordon Storrs
We suspected during the 2003 “No on 3” campaign that Utah’s constitutional amendment was unconstitutional, and Judge Shelby’s ruling validated our beliefs. Like so many in our community, Gordon and I followed with great interest the developing story of gay marriage after his ruling. We watched the news and read the coverage of elated, celebratory reaction within our community of support and the expected blow-back from the entrenched institutions.
On Monday we wanted to go to the Salt Lake County Complex, as much as anything, to witness history. We left home before eight in the morning. While we drove I asked Gordon, “What do you think are our chances of getting married?”
He replied, “About 10 percent.”
Arriving just past the hour, a security officer greeted us outside the building and directed us to the end of the line. The line circled around the perimeter hallway of the first floor of the building, continued up the stairs, wound around the second floor hallway where it ended at the clerk’s office. Cheering erupted, a noisy celebration born out of years of repression, as couples exited the office armed with their paperwork. Pairs made their way to the main floor open hallway where ministers, some newly ordained, performed marriages in front of this very public and supportive, rowdy crowd freely acknowledging our new relationships.
After more than half an hour in line, we had moved no more than six feet. Megan Risbon from the Utah Pride Center was on her cell phone checking other counties and advised that Morgan, Davis and Tooele counties were issuing licenses with no waiting. The nine o’clock hour approached and a possible stay order could be announced at any time.
Another time constraint was that the next morning, Christmas Eve, Gordon’s four children, spouses, and 12 grandchildren would arrive at our home for breakfast and to open gifts. We had much to do. We decided to drive to Farmington, the seat of Davis County.
A young man greeted us in the hallway outside the clerk’s office and kindly asked us to wait until someone was free to help. In a short time we were at the desk filling out paperwork while the middle-aged woman apologized that they had not had time to alter the forms which labeled the spaces to be filled in “groom” and “bride.”
A question we overheard several times was, “How long have you been together?” Answers and stories were returned and exchanged, listened to with respect and empathy, internalized, sometimes accompanied with tears and awkward over-the-counter hugs.
We witnessed clerks handing couples with completed papers cellophane bags tied with white ribbon which contained two cupcakes with white icing reportedly delivered earlier in the morning by a local woman who said that every couple deserves cake on their wedding day.
We handed the forms back to the clerk, who delivered them to a woman on a computer and soon returned to us a printed copy to check for accuracy. The clerk next presented us with the marriage license for our signatures. She collected the fee and had the license signed by the deputy clerk.
She then asked if we wished the services of a minister. I told her that I understood when a license was issued that the contract was complete and inviolate. She pointed out the tiny print at the top which read “application” and the print at the bottom outside the decorative border which read in part: “This marriage license must be used within 30 days from the date of issue” and returned to the clerk “within 30 days after the marriage is solemnized.”
She must have read on our faces a combination of hesitancy, confusion and disappointment. Of course Gordon and I had discussed a commitment ceremony before and the way this situation was unfolding did not meet our ideal plans. She explained that a minister had driven from Logan that morning and was performing marriages on the second floor in front of a large window that overlooked the old courthouse. She said the setting was private and had a decorated Christmas tree.
We took the elevator to the second floor.
We handed our paperwork to the minister, a very young woman, slight with almond-shaped blue eyes and shoulder-length natural blonde hair. I told her I understood that she was from Logan. She said, “Yes, I drove down to where I was needed.”
She checked the pronunciation of our names and asked us to stand in front of her facing each other. We listened as she read vows freshly written and genuinely felt. When she asked me to repeat after her my vows to Gordon, the words stopped in my throat. Whether it was a well spring of happiness erupting or the joy of facing my partner and joining our lives in this covenant and contract I don’t know, but as Gordon squeezed my hand I found my voice again.
Visiting immediately after with the minister, Rachael Peterson, and the lesbian couple she married before us who acted as witnesses, we learned that Rachael is a minister in the Universal Unitarian Church of Cache Valley, a doctoral student at Utah State University and the founder of the Cache Youth Resource Center, which operates to support homeless LBGT youth.
As I read my New Testament, Rachael is fulfilling Christ’s charge and that is sanctification enough for me.