SALT LAKE CITY — Saturday is the anniversary of a federal’s judge’s landmark ruling striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, and a local theater company and several LGBT groups are marking the date with celebrations.
The surprise decision on a Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby touched off a fast-moving legal fight followed by similar rulings in other states that culminated in the legalization this fall of gay marriage in Utah.
“We had no idea how quickly the dominoes would fall,” said Peggy Tomsic, the lawyer who represented three gay couples in the case. “It’s a huge shift.”
To commemorate the ruling and the couples affected, the local Plan B-Theatre Company is performing “Marry Christmas,” a play inspired by the ruling and the thousands of gay couples who rushed to marry.
The nonprofit Restore Our Humanity held a party Friday night to mark the ruling, calling the event “Shelby Friday” in honor of the federal judge, and the LGBT group Equality Utah will hold a celebration Saturday at the Trolley Square.
Tomsic said many people were pessimistic about their chances, particularly in a conservative state like Utah.
The state is home to the Mormon church, which was one of the leading forces behind California’s short-lived ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, which voters approved in 2008. About two-thirds of the state’s residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Tomsic and her partner of 15 years, Cindy Bateman, were among the couples who married at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office in the hours following the decision.
As Utah appealed the case, the marriages were put in legal limbo until October. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in Utah’s case and appeals from four other states, eventually bringing the number of states with legal same-sex marriage up to 35.
Many had expected the case might end up before the high court and take years to resolve.
Restore Our Humanity, a nonprofit that recruited Tomsic to challenge Utah’s ban, didn’t expect to win until at least 2016, director Mark Lawrence told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Those opposed to same sex marriage are still sorting out its effects.
“What I sense is that there is very much a feeling of resignation,” said Bill Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation, which offers legal assistance to defend laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
“There’s just going to be some grappling to understand what happens now and what this means,” Duncan said.
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