Five years ago today, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby issued a ruling that struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. That case, Kitchen v. Herbert, and others like it, created precedent that eventually led the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage nationwide. It also led to a rush at the Salt Lake County clerk’s office, where hundreds of LGBT couples had gathered to get married.
One of those couples was Marina and Eleanor Gomberg. Marina, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, wrote about the occasion this week to mark the anniversary.
Below is a transcript of Gomberg’s interview about her wedding day, edited for length and clarity.
Marina Gomberg: So December 20 was just — in 2013 — was just kind of a normal day waking up. I mean it was a special day already because it's my mom's birthday and we had plans to go up to Ogden and celebrate her birthday. I don't remember what time it was in the afternoon, but I remember that I was sitting in a meeting when I got the news that Judge Shelby had issued his ruling on same-sex marriage. ...
And so there were some like furious texting, not furious, but sort of like this rapid texting with my wife and everybody else and ‘Oh my god! This is happening!’ But there was some confusion about if it meant that we could go get married immediately, and once we realized that we could, I couldn't even contain myself. I was in a meeting and I just had to blurt out what was going on and much to my surprise, people just sort of cheered and hollered and hugged and then sent me on my way.
And I was running in the parking lot and called my mom and she said, ‘Mom, marriage is legal. Eleanor and I are going to be late to dinner. We've got to go to the county building and get married.’ And I worried that she would be kind of bummed since this was her day. But immediately she just said, ‘Go get married!’ I just remember driving to go meet up with Eleanor and our two friends and just feeling like I was on top of the world because I had sort of felt like I had my mom with me even though I knew she wouldn't make it down Salt Lake in time.
So we met up, we downloaded the marriage forms, we had a shot or two of whiskey and then drove to the county building. … [We] had the marriage forms downloaded and, of course, they still said bride and groom. So, Eleanor took one for the team and decided that she would be our groom.
I remember after we parked the car we were running in and it just felt like a movie — I was already crying. By the time we got inside, there was already a line out the door of the clerk's office. It was creeping up on 5 p.m. We didn't know if they were going to close. But there were all these different LGBT people and straight families and county employees and officiants that had come to either help people get married or just witness this event.
It was cool because you could hear these just sporadic moments of celebration all over this kind of large lobby when either couples would find each other in the crowds to meet up and get married or a ceremony would finish. I mean it was just jubilation ... and a little bit of panic quite frankly because there's a long line and it's almost 5 p.m.
I remember the county clerk, or somebody in the county clerk's office, came out and they said that they would stay there as long as it took to get everybody married who wanted to be married. And the place just erupted in this wild cheering.
We finally made it through the line and rushed out, and as we walked out the door with the paperwork signed and having paid the $40 — the best $40 I've ever spent — and people said, ‘Do you need an officiant?’ ... and ‘So go around the corner.’ So we go around the corner and there is Mayor [Ralph] Becker in that now famous red vest. And it's funny because I can hardly even remember a thing that he said. Because there was this moment where Eleanor and I are sweating and crying and I just remember holding her hand and just the world sort of evaporated for just a quick second.
...We had been together since 2004 and had always dreamed of having a legal commitment. We thought buying a house was as good as it would get. And that moment was so surreal that the world kind of faded away for a second. Then I remember ... I think it was like I needed to say ‘I do’ or something ... and sort of snapped back to reality, realizing that there are cameras everywhere and people and hoopin’ and hollerin’ … and we were married.
It's weird because we already had a commitment ceremony. And yet this piece of paper and the government recognition sort of felt like the legitimacy of our humanity in a way that even our meticulously planned commitment ceremony couldn't have done. ... But that the government would want to give us more than 1,100 benefits and rights and protections … felt like it was legitimizing who we were and the way that we love.
So I remember then we sort of rushed out of there and tried to get out — [I] watched a couple of ceremonies, I performed one terribly, unfortunately. But then we rushed up to Ogden.
And by the time we had gotten there all of the birthday celebrations everything had been changed. They had gotten some tinsel and other things. And it had turned into a little impromptu wedding reception. And so we got to celebrate with my family that night.
And so today is sort of a great day. You know, we always celebrate our anniversary and my mom's birthday. I got some making up to do there, but she's happy to share the day.