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Views & Analysis

January 17, 2014

Utah: This Time it’s Personal

Kate’s daughter, Emily, right, and her spouse, Heather, on their wedding day.

January 2014 has barely begun and already we are off like a rocket. On December 20th, federal district court Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah’s Amendment 3 is unconstitutional and that same-sex couples could begin marrying there immediately. Our community, and everyone committed to justice for LGBT people, has been buzzing ever since.

In our home, Judge Shelby’s ruling was particularly electrifying. I grew up in Utah, and I came to consciousness as a feminist and a lesbian at Weber State College in my hometown of Ogden. For 12 years, I helped raise a daughter, Emily, now 33, with my former partner, Lori. I went to law school at the University of Utah and had my first legal jobs at a Salt Lake City firm and then the ACLU of Utah. Oh, and I also grew up Mormon.

Emily and I have continued to be close. She is very much a part of our family. She is “big sissy” to Julian and Ariana, and she and Sandy bond over all the crafty things I do not have the genes to enjoy. Emily and her partner, Heather, got married in a commitment ceremony in Utah in September. It was a fabulous wedding. Many of my family members—including many of my Mormon relatives and extended family—attended, completely happy for Emily and Heather. The plan was that sometime in 2014 Heather and Emily would come to California and legally marry. And then Judge Shelby made his ruling, and that changed everything.

Emily and Heather stayed overnight Sunday, December 22 in Salt Lake City. First thing Monday morning, they went to the Salt Lake City and County Building, where they stood in line and hoped to be able to marry.

The morning of December 23 was electric, as our family followed events on social media and text. At one point, Sandy said, “Gosh, we know a bunch of people in Salt Lake—can’t somebody go and take them flowers and be there with them?” And then Julian said, “Why don’t you ask Aunt Sharon?” I called my sister. She and her husband, Larry, changed their plans entirely. They went to the store and bought flowers for Emily, as well as donuts for the others standing in line to marry. As Sharon told me later, “We made it there just as the clerk was leading them away to perform the ceremony, it was so exciting!” Sharon, and my brother-in-law—both devout Mormons, could not have been happier to be there. My sister was an official witness to the marriage. Her name is on the marriage license.

Watching the events unfold in Utah over the Christmas holiday was about the most exhilarating experience of a life filled with many such moments. Just recalling the events of that morning leaves me a little short of breath, my heart racing. This is what witnessing a landmark moment in a civil rights struggle feels like. We have all seen many such moments and there will be more ahead.

The Utah case is now on appeal to the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. After that, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the option to review the 10th Circuit’s decision if it chooses. NCLR is honored to be co-counsel on this landmark litigation. Never before has the personal and the political so perfectly intersected for me.

They call it a “struggle” for a reason. There are enormous highs, and dreadful lows. The events of the past several weeks—just in Utah—feel like a roller coaster. But even with the ups and downs, I would not change a thing. We are witnessing our history as it unfolds. This is a history that every generation hence will be writing about, talking about, and marking as a huge moment in our collective effort to win full dignity, security, and support for our lives and our community.

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