On Dec. 20, 2013, United States District Judge Robert Shelby issued his ruling on the case of Kitchen v. Herbert, declaring Utah’s Amendment 3 unconstitutional. That afternoon, the floodgates opened and gay and lesbian couples swarmed County Clerks’ offices across the state to file for marriage licenses.
Those same floodgates were shoved closed on Jan. 6, 2014, when the United States Supreme Court granted a motion by the State of Utah to stay that decision, pending appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The stay stopped new marriage licenses from being issued, but did not invalidate, or even rule on, the marriages that took place during that 17-day window.
For 17 days some 1,360 Utah gay and lesbian couples had a small taste of legal equality, for 17 days they were allowed to enter into the legal state of marriage.
The couples who swarmed into various County Clerk offices had run the entire spectrum of demographics. From age 18 to 80+; male, female and transgender; lesbian, gay, and bisexual; and virtually every ethnicity. Some of those couples had been together for mere months, others for years, and some for decades – none of them had expected that 2013 would be the year they would legally be able to marry in, of all places, Utah.
For 17 days Utah’s LGBT community had had a taste of equality, a snippet of what most of us take for granted every day. I say a taste because my wife and I were married by the Salt Lake County Clerk office, but we didn’t have to spend hours in line. We didn’t need to drop everything and rush down in fear of having that window closed on us by the governor, attorney general, or some higher court.
For 17 days the scales of justice tipped toward balance. More than 1,000 couples were able to create legally-recognized families for the first time, families whose legal status is now in limbo pending another ruling, but that are recognized by the federal government and the State of Maryland.
For 17 days the State of Utah inched closer to the promise of America, the promise that we are all free and equal under the law.
For 17 days we were a better state, participating in creating a “more perfect union.”
For 17 days love and justice triumphed over bigotry and discrimination.
For 17 days, we separated church from state in one facet of our political lives.
The great Leonardo DaVinci once said, “For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”
For 17 days this community tasted flight, and we refuse to be bound to the land again. This emotional flight was brought into sharp focus at the Love Elevated event of Jan. 11, as nearly 2,000 people came together to celebrate life, love and equality. We tasted the skies that night, we tasted freedom and equality and now we will all continue to look skyward and fight to return to that place of equality and liberty.
Seventeen days in Utah, 17 days to help shape a better future for us all.