Guest Post: Marriage Equality in Utah
Mary Danzig is a fiddler/violinist and mom. She performs with her husband Peter in the folk/newgrass duo Otter Creek.
Photo: Tom Smart, AP
My first memory of a wedding ceremony is sitting spellbound in front of a TV while Princess Diana walked down the aisle in her glorious dress with the mile long train. In contrast, my three daughters’ first memory will include a young woman in her Chuck-a-Rama work shirt waiting in a long line with her newborn baby and partner to obtain a marriage license.
On Friday afternoon hundreds of people dropped what they were doing and rushed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office when they learned that Amendment Three (which prohibits same sex marriage) had been overturned. They wanted to get married. They didn’t know how long the window of opportunity would be open. Many had waited years, even decades, to marry. They weren’t going to waste another moment.
I rushed my own girls out the door. I threw a damp washcloth at my oldest daughter, instructing her to wash her youngest sister’s face while we drove. We had a wedding to get to. As we walked into the county building we heard cheering. Utah State Senator James Dabakis had just married his partner of 27 years. Clergy from several denominations stood in the foyer performing weddings for couples. Each time a couple emerged from the clerk’s office with their marriage license, people cheered. We saw hundreds of people standing in line to get their licenses. At 5:00 the county clerk announced that all people in line would have their licenses processed if at all possible, but anyone else joining the line after 5:00 would probably not receive a marriage license. And yet, people continued to get in line “just in case.”
As I looked at the young woman in her Chuck-a-Rama shirt I felt certain that this was not what she had planned to wear to her dream wedding. Absent from the event were bouquets, cake, music, and most significantly the majority of this couple’s family and friends. And yet, it didn’t seem to matter. The joy was overwhelming. Everywhere I turned there were children giddy that their parents were getting married, elderly people thrilled to finally legally bind themselves together, and young couples starry-eyed and dreamy, eager to begin their lives.
It was a perfect night. Our friends were married in a beautiful, simple ceremony with their two children looking on. I choked back tears as I watched these two amazing moms finally be able to make their commitment to each other legal. My husband Peter and I were given the incredible honor of being their witnesses.
On Saturday, 350 people waited outside in the cold to obtain marriage licenses, only to learn that the Weber County Office had determined it could not open after all. Sunday night people slept outside the Salt Lake County Offices, hoping they could obtain a marriage license in the morning before the State of Utah could request (and possibly be granted) a stay. Over the past few days I have thought a lot about my newlywed friends who still don’t know if their marriage will guarantee the non-biological mom the right to adopt the children she has nurtured since the day they were born.
I have felt shame at the contrast in the circumstances around my wedding. There was never any doubt I could obtain a wedding license to marry Peter. We selected a summer day for our nuptials when family and friends could join us. Forever impacted by Princess Diana’s wedding, I agonized over all the details of our wedding day for months. I certainly didn’t have to sleep on the sidewalk the night before I married my soul mate. No one thought I was a threat to their family because I wanted to start my own.
And so, Monday morning, Peter, the kids and I headed off to the Salt Lake County building again to witness more friends marry. We felt like we couldn’t go empty handed. You don’t do that at a wedding. And yet, what do you get for hundreds of couples? Well, we knew they didn’t have time to plan all the details, like the music, so we took our instruments and played all the wedding standards: Pachelbel, Bach, Mouret and more until our arms hurt. Our girls sang “Morning Has Broken” and never has that song felt more right.
I heard the cheer go up when someone shouted, “The stay has been denied!” Everyone who stood in the line that wrapped around two floors of the building was going to be able to get married that day. And yet, no one knows if another court may yet grant a stay. Or, if the State of Utah might win its appeal.
I know not everyone believes in gay marriage; people are free to have their opinions. And, religions do not have to marry same sex couples if they do not wish to, although many faiths welcome the opportunity. As for me, the LGBT community has strengthened my appreciation of marriage and family. I have witnessed that the right to legally commit yourself to the person you love is powerful. People will drop everything to do it. They will wear a Chuck-a-Rama shirt if they have to. They will freeze all night in order to have their relationship formally recognized and honored. People with such commitment bring something precious to the State of Utah. They inspire me to cherish my marriage more deeply and to realize how much I take for granted.
I hope as my girls grow up that they will never forget what they have seen over these historic days. I hope they will remember what a remarkable thing love is, what a precious gift it is to find someone who wants to walk through life hand in hand whatever it may bring. I hope they will remember that marriage is about dropping everything to be with the person you love, that it sustains you when life is cold and that Chuck-a-Rama shirts don’t really matter when you have your best friend. But I also hope that my daughters will come to expect a world where all couples are shown the same dignity that their parents were. I hope someday to live in a state where any loving adult couple can expect they can walk into the County Clerk’s office on any weekday and obtain a marriage license without fear of stays or appeals. Then, I think we will be a state with family values.