Local couple become part of historic first wave of gay marriages in Utah
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Dec 25, 2013 | 4490 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mary Beth Fitzburgh and Leta Vaughn were running errands in downtown Salt Lake City on Dec. 20 when they heard the news that a U.S. district judge struck down Utah’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

The Castle Valley couple were well aware that gay marriage supporters had challenged the ban. But Fitzburgh said she never imagined that Utah would join the 17 other U.S states where same-sex marriage is now legal.

“It’s not anything that I was ever expecting to see,” she said Dec. 22.

The likelihood that they’d be able to exchange vows in their home state appeared to be so remote that Fitzburgh and Vaughn made plans to get married in California next February. But the couple jettisoned those plans as soon as they had a chance to process the details of U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s decision.

They knew that the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office was scheduled to close for the weekend within the next half hour, so they immediately stopped what they were doing and rushed off in that direction.

The scene at the clerk’s office was a madhouse by the time they arrived, Fitzburgh said, with hundreds of people filling the hallways.

“It was a really exciting atmosphere,” she said. “People felt like they were part of something historic.”

It turned out that they got there just in time. Fifteen minutes later, the clerk’s office stopped letting other people in.

Even so, Fitzburgh said she and Vaughn had no guarantee that anyone from the office could get around to their application for a marriage license.

“They said they would try to process as many as they could for people who were waiting in line,” she said.

As they inched their way forward, another thought struck Fitzburgh: the couple had no one to officiate their wedding.

However, it didn’t take them long to find someone. According to Fitzburgh, a humanist minister just in front of them volunteered for the job.

With her help, they became one of the first 100 or so same-sex couples who became legally married in Salt Lake County.

Although state officials are now challenging U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s decision, Fitzburgh and Vaughn are optimistic that it will survive fully intact.

“To me, this is the tipping point, and the house of cards [against gay marriage] is really falling,” Fitzburgh said.

Vaughn believes the ruling gives them the same rights that straight couples have long enjoyed.

“We’ve been together for almost 17 years, and we’re just so excited that we did it,” she said. “I’ve spent my entire life in Utah and it’s nice to have the state recognize me the same way it recognizes everyone else.”

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