SALT LAKE CITY — More than 200 people gathered in an empty store at Trolley Square Saturday evening to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the day same-sex marriage first became legal in Utah.
Many couples at the event hosted by Equality Utah, Utah Pride Center and ACLU of Utah, were also celebrating their one-year wedding anniversaries after they rushed to the clerk's office for their marriage licenses and to take their vows on that Friday following the surprise pre-Christmas court decision by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby.
Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said the gay and transgender community was ecstatic with the ruling that Utah's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, as approved by voters in 2004, was unconstitutional.
"We will continue to work to achieve full legal equality in all areas governed by civil law," Williams said.
Moudi Sbeity and his fiance Derek Kitchen and others at the celebration reflected on the past year: "It was almost hard to believe," he said.
Judge Shelby was the first to rule on a state's gay marriage ban after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor in June 2013.
Shelby found the state’s voter-approved 2004 law violated the 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection and due process.
'Freedom to Marry Day'
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker Saturday proclaimed December 20 as "Freedom to Marry Day," in recognition of the one-year anniversary.
This is all of us together. One humanity trying to achieve the same rights and blessings to live, work and love in the state that we call our home.
–Troy Williams, Equality Utah
"I continue to celebrate the appropriate extension of marriage rights to all of our residents and look forward to a time when we, as a society, stop battling over our differences and simply appreciate and respect one another,” Becker said in a statement.
Sophia Thompson attended the event and said it was overwhelming.
"To see how far we've come, just a year ago things were really different and now we're all here and it's just really cool."
Williams said it's not an "us vs. them battle," when it comes to same-sex marriage. He hopes for peace in the years to come between those who do and do not support same-sex marriage.
"This is all of us together," he said. "One humanity trying to achieve the same rights and blessings to live, work and love in the state that we call our home."
Changing laws and opinions
Seventeen states allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry before the Shelby ruling. Now, there are 35, but the issue is not settled across the country.
As noted in Saturday's Deseret News, challenges to state laws are pending in other states, and one in which a federal appeals court upheld gay marriage bans could be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court during its current term.
Two polls taken in October by UtahPolicy.com revealed where the debate may continue in Utah.
The first poll found that while 58 percent oppose same-sex marriage compared with 61 percent in a poll taken in August, those with the strongest opposition dropped from 53 percent then to 44 percent now.
That prompted UtahPolicy.com publisher LaVarr Webb to note at the time, "I think the trend is significant," calling it a move toward the middle on the issue as the public becomes more aware of same-sex couples, such as those celebrating their anniversaries on Saturday.
The second poll showed that some in Utah have turned their attention to protecting religious liberty, in some cases supporting anti-discrimination but opposing gay marriage on religious grounds.
In that poll Utahns overwhelmingly supported legislation clarifying that clergy don't have to perform weddings for gay and lesbian couples.
The survey found 64 percent of residents strongly favor such measures, while 16 percent somewhat favor them. It also showed 6 percent would strongly oppose the legislation, and 7 percent would somewhat oppose it.
Contributing: Richard Piatt