In emotional scene, same-sex couples wed in Summit County
December 24, 2013
Debbie Barnes and Sydney Keel have lived together in Utah as a married couple would have for the past 35 years, sharing their lives in a state that has declined to formally recognize their same-sex relationship.
Barnes, 55 years old and a purchasing manager at Deer Valley Resort, and Keel, who is 56 years old, on Monday exchanged vows at the County Courthouse in Coalville in what was one of the first same-sex marriages to be conducted in Summit County.
The Summit Park couple was in line in the morning as the Summit County Clerk’s Office began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a result of a federal judge’s ruling that Utah’s voter-approved prohibition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
"It’s very emotional. We’ve been waiting 36 years for this day," Barnes, a lifelong resident of Utah, said before the nuptials, adding, "I hoped to see it in my lifetime, but I just didn’t expect it this soon."
There were more than 50 people in line outside the Clerk’s Office a little after it opened at 8 a.m. Kent Jones, the county clerk, issued upward of 20 marriage licenses to same-sex couples by 9:15 a.m. Jones, a Democrat, had indicated beforehand he intended to abide by the judge’s ruling. By late in the morning, the Clerk’s Office reported it had issued 28 marriage licenses on Monday — 26 of them to same-sex couples.
"I’m equal in rights. It’s that basic," Barnes said.
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The crowd cheered as Jones handed the marriage licenses to the couples. A roster of elected officials from Summit County and Park City were at the County Courthouse to watch, including Democratic County Councilors and at least one member of the Park City Council, Alex Butwinski. Tim Henney, who takes a seat on the City Council in early January, was also there.
Mayor Dana Williams, retiring in early January after 12 years in Park City’s highest office, officiated nearly all of the weddings. The couples wishing to be wedded on the spot received their marriage licenses at the Clerk’s Office and walked the short distance inside the building to the County Council’s chambers for the ceremony.
Williams last week, in an unexpected comment made at the end of the final City Council meeting he would preside over, said he wanted same-sex marriage legalized in Park City. His comment was made prior to the federal judge’s ruling.
"I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, and I believe this is what I should be doing," Williams said on Monday morning, calling the day another milestone in the fight against discrimination.
Other officials there on Monday agreed with the mayor. County Councilman Roger Armstrong, a Democrat, said the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby was a well-reasoned one that "changed this country with the stroke of a pen."
Chris Robinson, a Democratic County Councilor who was not at the County Courthouse on Monday as he recovers from shoulder surgery, said he is pleased Jones issued the marriage licenses.
"I think Kent did the right thing opening up . . . There may be future challenges but for now it is the law of the land," Robinson said. "I think it is only a matter of time before it is the law . . . These bans are not going to hold up in the long run."
Utah voters in 2004 approved an amendment to the state Constitution banning same-sex marriage. Voters in Summit County opposed the ballot measure, with a little more than 61 percent voting ‘Nay.’ Summit County joined Grand County as the only two counties to vote against the measure. Opponents challenged the amendment as violating the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.
The first few weddings on Monday lasted a little longer than three minutes each. Williams offered the couples an Apache nation blessing as he married them. The weddings took place in front of a crowd of other couples, family members, government officials and others who appeared to want to be there on a historic morning. The voices of some of those who were wedded trembled as they recited their vows.
Another couple who married at the County Courthouse, Patrice Martin and Jamie Grundstrom, recalled Williams officiating at their commitment ceremony in Park City 4 1/2 years ago. The Blackhawk Station couple — Martin a personal trainer and group fitness instructor and Grundstrom a nurse — arrived at the County Courthouse at 5:30 a.m., more than two hours before the offices opened.
"Amazing. It’s hard to describe, out-of-body experience," Grundstrom, whose 8-month-old daughter was with the couple, said.
Martin added that the marriage will afford the couple rights that a husband and wife hold, such as sharing legal guardianship of Grundstrom’s daughter and the ability to make decisions if one is hospitalized.
"It feels like Christmas when I was a little girl," Martin said.