As I rolled two pairs of tights over your legs and pulled a knitted sweater dress over your head, I tried my best to put the enormity of what we were about to see into perspective.
“You know how our family believes that anyone who loves another person should be allowed to get married?”
“Sure,” you said.
“Well, did you know that some people haven’t been allowed to do that? That under the law in this state and other states, men haven’t been allowed to get a license to marry other men and women cannot marry women?”
“That not fair,” you said.
“You’re right. And today a judge decided that it’s not fair at all. The law has been overturned, and so there are lots and lots of people over at the county courthouse who are celebrating today by getting their marriage licenses.”
“Oh,” you said. “But why are we getting dressed?”
“Because we’re going to go watch.”
“Watch them get married?”
“Well, watch them get their licenses at least. Maybe there will be some weddings, too. Pretty exciting, right?”
“That kind of sounds a little bit boring.”
Someday — someday very soon, in fact — it will be. But tonight the thing that happened in our state was nothing short of historic. I wanted to be there. And I wanted you to be there.
Because someday — when gay marriage is boring — it’s going to be because of days like today.
Let me back up, just a little bit:
The final vote I cast as an Oregonian was in opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The first vote I cast as a Utahn was the same. I wasn’t on the winning side of either of those battles.
As it happens, 2004 wasn’t a particularly good year for civil rights in our country. More than a dozen states passed constitutional amendments that year defining marriage as an institution that would only be legally recognized when it consisted of a partnership of one man and one woman. Many more followed. For years to come, not a single proposed ban would fail to get a majority of voters to back it. Whenever voters had a chance to choose between equality and bigotry, they chose the latter, sometimes by just a little and sometimes by a lot.
But a lot can change in a decade. It has been nearly three years since a major poll has found anything but solid support for same-sex marriage in America. And our courts — slow though they’ve been to get to the issue — have followed suit, finding in an increasing number of cases that voters don’t have the right, under our Constitution, to grant legal privileges to one set of people while banning it from others.
None of this change has come without a fight, of course. There are still people in this country — many of them, in fact — who haven’t yet figured out that their personal moral objections have absolutely no relevance when it comes to other people’s legal rights.
And that brings us to today, when a federal judge struck down Utah’s nine-year-old gay marriage ban. In his decision, Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the constitutional amendment known as Amendment 3 — passed overwhelmingly by Utah voters the year your mother and I moved to this state — demeans the dignity of same-sex couples “for no rational reason” and is, therefore, unconstitutional.
By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people were lined up outside the office of the Salt Lake County Clerk. By evening, the county had set a new record for the number of new marriage licenses granted in a day.
The state’s acting attorney general (a man I know and respect, but who is woefully on the wrong side of common decency and the march of human history when it comes to this issue) has pledged to appeal the judge’s decision. As a result, a tremendous urgency hung over tonight’s proceedings at the clerk’s office. Under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the licenses issued today cannot be unissued — but a stay on Judge Shelby’s ruling specific to Utah’s ban could put any new licenses on hold for months or years to come.
And so it was that would-be brides and grooms arrived for their weddings in blue jeans and sweatpants, in work uniforms and hospital scrubs. Children were carrying school backpacks. Owing to the season, almost everyone was wearing thick winter coats. At least in the hour or so that we were present, there were no tuxedos or white wedding gowns.
They cobbled together what family and friends they could on short notice. In some cases, other applicants stood in as witnesses. Photojournalists, rather than wedding photographers, captured the nuptials. There was no cake. No toasts. No throwing of bouquets to wild unwed mobs.
But there were tears in just about everyone’s eyes. Because, as it turns out, you don’t need any of that extra stuff to have a wedding. All you need are two people who love one another and desire to make a public commitment to each other.
You sat on my shoulders and watched seven or eight such instantaneous ceremonies before reminding me that this was, in fact, all still quite boring.
I’m so very glad you feel that way.
Someday we all will.
Top: My friend and former colleague, Natalie Dicou, and her partner Nicole Christensen, fill out their application for a marriage license. Photo by my good friend Jim Urquhart (over whose wedding I officiated, so I feel no remorse in stealing this image.)
Middle: A crowd of people (including you, Spike) watched as a parade of newly married couples emerged from the office of the Salt Lake County clerk. Photo from The Deseret News.