The time before the holidays this past year might mean many things to different people: one thing I’ll always remember the 2013 holidays for—Beyonce’s album dropping straight from the heavens, completely out of nowhere and a completely divine audio/visual mind explosion. But another, more significant happenstance to our state, that will stay ingrained in not only my mind, but will stay in the hearts of a number of people, will be the 17-day period beginning on December 20 when Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling allowed same-sex couples the benefit of marriage. In a state that seemed last on the list of places where this would happen, to say this was an exciting period would be a gross understatement.
It was shortly after hearing the news that Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker rushed to the Salt Lake County Building to marry not only friends that he knew, including our State Senator Jim Dabakis, but to marry a grand total of 35 couples on that first day of the ruling. While the result from the stay granted to Utah rests in the hands of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, making the legitimacy of these marriages up in the air, the weekend of Pride calls for celebrations. In this spirit, Becker invited the couples over which he officiated on that day into his office for a wedding reception to get to meet with those that he joined in union.
It was only after that day in the County Building was over that Becker realized that his outfit was a little out there, donning a red vest in the spirit of the holidays. This now infamous red vest has become the image of his work that day, and was later auctioned off for $1,300, which was donated to Equality Utah. Becker took this theme and rolled with it to host this wedding reception, offering T-shirts and cupcakes bearing the logo.
Of the couples that attended, all shared a sense of gratitude for the Mayor and how quickly he jumped to participate. For Colleen Sandor & Candice Pitcher, they had been waiting for another opportunity to marry, as they were married for the first time in 2008 in California, before Proposition 8 deemed their marriage invalid. With twin babies Lydia Marie & Scarlett Ann, the couple is currently in an adoption limbo, and they hope to see the day that they can be recognized as a family unit.
Stacia Ireland & JoNelle Evans, together for 13 years, aren’t giving up the fight, and filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the ACLU and three other couples under Evans vs. Utah, with the intent to allow those couples who were married during the 17-day period the legitimacy of marriage. Every day that the decision stays on hold is another day that these couples do not receive the protections deemed under marriage, but these two are optimistic in the face of the prolonged legal process.
Eddie Fung and William Schwarz, despite first being married in 2004 in San Francisco under Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision that allowed city officials to briefly issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, have found themselves again in the same limbo of trying to get the state to recognize their marriage. Fung, who works for an often under-funded non-profit, remarked that for him, the most frustrating aspect of this issue is seeing the amount of money going into the fight against these marriages, which could be spent on other projects that benefit and unite the community, rather than dividing it.
In an op-ed piece in the Salt Lake Tribune, Becker remarked, “I will always remember my participation on that historic day to advance the freedom to marry for all loving couples.” According to Becker’s partner, Kate Kopischke, Becker had a close friend during his time spent consulting for Bear West, who moved to Nevada to escape the conservative policies of Utah. This upset Becker, and has since been an issue that touches him personally, as he tries to create a space in Utah for those who do not fall in the conservative norm. With warmth and a welcome greeting, the wedding reception held on Sunday was a sincere gesture to let those couples know that their union is a blessing worth honoring.