Grand County issued twelve marriage licenses for same-sex couples between Monday, Dec. 23 and Friday, Jan. 3, before the Supreme Court put same-sex marriages on hold Monday, Jan. 6, to allow a federal appeals court more fully consider the issue.
In the same time period, three marriage licenses for traditional couples were issued, said Grand County clerk Diana Carroll.
On Friday, Dec. 20, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights, which made Utah the 18th state to allow same-sex marriages.
The first few days were the busiest, Carroll said; as has been echoed by county clerks across the state.
“They all feel they’ve had the same results,” she said. “They were all busy at first, and have since slowed down.”
Over 900 marriage licenses for same-sex couples were issued across the state.
Tom Ehmer and Kym Packard were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Grand County. They were at the county clerk’s office the morning of Monday, Dec. 23.
Ehmer said he saw the news that same-sex marriage was legal in Utah on television.
“It was sort of a shock,” he said. “We’ve been waiting 35 years, since 1978.”
The two were married on Thursday, Jan. 3.
Packard pointed out how the form for the marriage license had entry lines for “bride” and “groom.”
“They’re going to have to change these forms,” he said.
Carroll said that the forms are issued by the State of Utah, and that their office will have to wait until the state changes the form.
“We did change our license, so that instead of bride and groom it says applicant,” Carroll said.
Sharon Kienzle and Tammy Ceretto were married at their home in Moab on Thursday, Dec. 26.
The two have worn rings to symbolize their commitment.
“They were always cheap,” Ceretto said.
On Dec. 2, not knowing that same-sex marriage would be legal in Utah, Kienzle bought “nice” rings as a Christmas present for her partner.
“I cried,” Ceretto said, when she realized.
When they announced their marriage to Kienzle’s children, her youngest child Kristy was particularly happy.
“I always called her my step-mom,” she said. “Now she is.”
The two met while playing on a high school basketball team in South Dakota. Ceretto was a freshman; Kienzle was a senior. Ceretto said she knew she was gay since she was in kindergarten; but Kienzle was in denial at the time. Kienzle wanted to marry and have a family. She did, and had two daughters and one son. She later divorced and accepted being gay.
It was several years later, when Ceretto was ending an unhealthy 12-year relationship, that the two were reacquainted. Kienzle said it was “fate.”
Ceretto was reluctant to enter another relationship, but Kienzle persisted.
“She was so patient and understanding and caring,” Ceretto said. “She’s like my knight in shining armor.”
The two have been in a committed relationship for eleven years.
Kienzle and Ceretto moved to Moab from South Dakota three years ago when Kienzle accepted the position as the director of the Moab Information Center.
“We knew Utah was more open than South Dakota,” Kienzle said, referring to non-discrimination laws in place in Salt Lake City and Moab.
Ceretto said that she found acceptance individually and as a couple in Moab.
“People in Moab are very supportive, caring and lots of times I’m taken by their hospitality,” Ceretto said. “People I’ve met are like family. Everyone is congratulating us. This town is very supportive.”
The two were touched by how kind the clerk’s office employees were when they applied for the marriage license.
“The ladies at the courthouse were amazing,” Kienzle said. “They were non-judgmental. They were sincerely happy for us.”
The Moab City Council voted 4-1 on Oct. 22 to create a Mutual Commitment Registry that would allow same-sex couples to be eligible for benefits through an employer, allow for visitation at health care facilities, or access city-owned and operated facilities in the same manner as a spouse or a child.
Councilman Gregg Stucki was the only one to vote nay when the ordinance was passed.
Stucki said that he struggled with the idea that heterosexual couples were included in the ordinance.
“While we are trying to help one group receive a benefit they don’t currently have, we end up undermining that commitment in another,” Stucki said during the council meeting.
He recognized that same-sex couples didn’t have a legal avenue in Utah at the time to show their commitment and to receive benefits that come with that commitment. However, heterosexual relationships did, he said, and referred to the ordinance as ‘partial’ or ‘semi-commitment’ registry.
The registry was available on Nov. 23. No one has yet come in to sign up for the Mutual Commitment Registry, said Beth Joseph, the city’s deputy recorder.
Kienzle and Ceretto said they had talked about the registry when it was made available. But, because the couple had already had paperwork completed for medical power of attorney, which would allow them to attend to one another in a hospital as a family member, they didn’t see the need to apply for the registry.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the state’s ban violates gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights. The decision came as a shock to many in the state, where two-thirds of voters approved the ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.
In its filing Tuesday, Dec. 31, Utah argued that children are best raised by a mother and father in a good relationship. Attorneys pointed to social science research that shows children do best when raised by a man and a woman. By upholding the ban, the state can ensure more children are raised in the optimal environment, attorneys argued.
“On average, children navigate developmental stages more easily, perform better academically, have fewer emotional disorders and become better functioning adults when reared in that environment,” it said.
Peggy Tomsic, an attorney representing three gay and lesbian couples in Utah, fired back at the state’s premise. She said the state’s “hodgepodge of articles that purportedly show that same-sex parents are inferior to opposite-sex parents” is not only false, but fails to address the constitutional issues addressed in the ruling.
Same-sex couples agree that marriage provides enormous benefits to children, Tomsic argued, which is why gay marriages should be allowed to continue in Utah, where an estimated 3,000 children are being raised by same-sex couples.
“Excluding the children of same-sex couples from those benefits causes severe harm to those children, without providing any benefit to the children of opposite-sex parents,” she wrote.
The 10th Circuit has set short deadlines for both sides to file their written arguments, with the state’s first brief due on January 27. No date for argument has been set yet.
James Magleby, a lawyer for couples who sued to overturn the ban, said that while the halt to same-sex marriages is temporary — assuming the appeals court does not reverse Shelby’s ruling — it is disappointing because it leaves Utah families waiting to marry until the appeal is over.
“Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally,” Magleby said.
Utah changed its constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage in 2004.
Nearly two-thirds of Utah’s 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles. The Mormon church was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.
Though the church has softened its stance toward gays and lesbians in recent years, it still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for “traditional marriage.” Church officials say they hope a higher court validates its belief that marriage is between a man and woman.
California is among 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow, or soon will allow, gay and lesbian couples to wed.
California and the District of Columbia will soon allow gay and lesbian couples to wed. Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state.
Utah had been the 18th state for 17 days.
Kienzle said she wasn’t worried whether the ruling regarding same-sex marriage is overturned in Utah.
“Even if it is overturned, our marriage is still legal,” Kienzle said.
Supreme court halts same-sex marriages for review
“She was so patient and understanding and caring. She’s like my knight in shining armor.”