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Hundreds of same-sex couples wed; some Utah counties refuse to issue licenses

(Ravelle Call, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of same-sex couples waited for hours at the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office in a race against the clock Monday as Utah officials sought to close an unexpected window allowing them to wed in the state.

Some couples camped outside the building overnight while others trickled in through the early morning waiting for the clerk's office to open at 8 a.m., just an hour before U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby began hearing arguments to stay his ruling that overturned the state's constitutional definition of marriage.

A team of frenzied clerks hurried to issue as many marriage licenses as possible while a team of volunteer clergy and officiators filled the lobby and wandered the halls performing marriages for cheering and weeping strangers.

Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill hovered nearby, waiting to halt the barrage of weddings if the emergency stay was granted.

But it wasn't.

"As far as we're concerned, we are going to continue to issue those licenses appropriately," Gill said, drowned out by a cheer that swept through the building as word spread that Shelby had denied the state's motion for a stay.

Record-setting days

The county processed everyone in the massive line Monday, issuing 353 licenses, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swenson reported. An additional 124 licenses were granted in Salt Lake County on Friday. Both days beat the office's all-time record of about 80 licenses, she said.

Lisa Williamson and Christie Jacobs, partners of three years, were anxiously approaching the door to the clerk's office when the cheering erupted. Even through their nervous, five-hour wait, the two women said they hadn't given up hope.

SLCO couple has trouble getting license for traditional marriage
by Sam Penrod

PROVO — For one Utah couple trying to get a marriage license before Christmas, a judge's ruling to legalize same-sex marriages in the state made their task harder than expected.

Between holiday celebrations and her upcoming wedding, Jessica Kearley had a very busy week planned. It became even more complicated on Friday afternoon as she and her fiancé, Beau, went to get their marriage license.

"We'd both been working all day, so we hadn't heard the news and thought it's no problem for us to meet a little before 5 (p.m.)," Jessica said. "Lo and behold, we get there and there was a large crowd."

After waiting a few minutes and seeing it could take hours, Jessica and Beau decided to come back on Monday.

"We made plans to go (Monday) morning, and so we got down there just as the office was opening … and the line was twice as long; and I guess we could have anticipated that, but we were a little frustrated," Jessica said.

But with the ceremony planned for Saturday in Salt Lake, and a lot to do between now and then — in addition to celebrating Christmas — Beau and Jessica were getting worried.

"We have a lot of shopping and last-minute things to do and don't have time to stand in line that a representative said could be hours and hours," Jessica said.

That's when they learned you don't have to have a marriage license in the county where you will be married — a marriage license is valid anywhere in Utah. So, the couple drove to the Utah County clerk's office where no same-sex marriage licenses are being issued, and no one was in line.

"We just filled out the paperwork, and (the worker) signed it and wished us well," Jessica said. "We were on a quest to get this, and I was not going to let anything stop me from marrying this man."

In the end, Jessica said she also learned it is less expensive to get a marriage license in Utah County: $30 instead of $40 in Salt Lake County. Now she and Beau joke they will start out their marriage $10 ahead.

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"There's always that 1 percent chance that (a stay) could have happened, and then we would have been here for nothing," Jacobs said.

"We're still watching the clock, it's not going to be real until we have that paper in our hand," Williamson responded.

The Salt Lake couple said they had been discussing marrying next summer, but when they heard Friday that Utah's Amendment 3 had been struck down, their mind was made up — they wanted to get married in Utah.

Same-sex couples also rushed to get marriage licenses Monday in other county offices across the state, and 21 counties were offering them.

Davis County issued 121 marriage licenses and Weber County issued 95.

In all, about 700 marriage licenses across the state were issued to same-sex couples Friday and Monday.

Some counties not issuing marriage licenses

After several hours of deliberation, representatives from Sanpete and Sevier counties announced Monday afternoon they would have licenses available on Tuesday. However, clerks in Box Elder, Juab, Piute and San Juan counties were not issuing licenses, saying they were awaiting further direction on how to do so.

To avoid the confusion that they say surrounds Shelby's ruling, Cache County officials stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether on Monday and closed its offices.

"Given the status of the pending motion for a stay and the appeal that will be filed by the state of Utah, the Cache County Clerk's office will be closed until further notice," said a statement issued by the county.

Cheryl Haws and Shelly Eyre served the Utah County Clerk's Office with a lawsuit Monday after the clerk's office refused to grant them a marriage license. The county had also turned away couples on Friday.

"We thought about it this morning, we could have gone to Salt Lake County and got in line with everyone else, but we thought, 'Why should we have to do that? We live in Utah County,'" said Haws, who asserts the county violated their rights.

Utah County Clerk Bryan Thompson said he is awaiting clarification on a complicated issue.

"There's just enough issues and questions that we've had that we wanted to proceed prudently," Thompson said Monday. "By no means is it an attempt to defy a judge."

"(Thompson)said, ‘We don't want it to be appealed and then have to void the license,'" Haws said. "I said, ‘I don't mind that. If you need to void my license you can, but it is my right to be able to apply for a marriage license today."

Haws said she and her partner are suing for violation of their civil rights, as well as intentional infliction of emotional damage. She said they'll have to speak with attorneys before they decide on monetary damages.

After being among the hundreds turned away from Weber County's offices on Saturday and anticipating pushback in their home of Utah County, Shauna Griffen and Brooke Shepherd spent the night waiting in line outside the Salt Lake County building.

Wearing matching shirts proclaiming "Love conquers hate," the two women were some of the first to receive their licenses before running to meet the Rev. Curtis Price, who was waiting for them in the lobby.

"It was a long night, we were worried," Griffen said. "I had faith in Salt Lake County, they came through."

The couple, together five years, had reservations to be married in Seattle next summer.

Contributing: Paul Nelson, Sandra Yi and Haley Smith

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