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Same-sex couples flock to S.L. County offices in wake of Amendment 3 decision

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 2:17 p.m. MDT

Jim Dabakis and his partner, Stephen Justesen, are married by Salt Lake City Mayor, Ralph Becker as hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Jim Dabakis and his partner, Stephen Justesen, are married by Salt Lake City Mayor, Ralph Becker as hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — When Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson heard that a federal judge had ruled Utah's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, they ran for the county clerk's office.

"I literally jumped out of the car when we got to the intersection at 21st Street, and was running so I could get in line while Seth parked the car," Ferguson said.

The Salt Lake County men were the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Utah after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby's decision struck down Amendment 3 to the Utah Constitution, allowing the practice.

Noting that "few questions are as politically charged in the current climate," Shelby's ruling resulted in a broad range of reaction, including disappointment from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a promise of appeal by the Utah Attorney General's Office and charges of judicial activism from some in the legal community.

State Sen. Jim Dabakis and his husband, Stephen Justesen, are married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker as hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in the Salt Lake County offices after a Federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) State Sen. Jim Dabakis and his husband, Stephen Justesen, are married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker as hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in the Salt Lake County offices after a Federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Amendment 3, which was approved by 66 percent of voters in 2004, defines marriage in Utah as a legal union between one man and one woman.

The county issued between 115 and 120 marriage licenses Friday, a clerk reported.

The Utah Attorney General's Office plans to request an emergency stay on the ruling, which likely will be heard by the district court next week.

"The federal district court’s ruling that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right has never been established in any previous case in the 10th Circuit," office spokesman Ryan Bruckman said in a statement. "The attorney general’s office will continue reviewing the ruling in detail until an appeal is filed to support the constitutional amendment passed by the citizens of Utah."

"We're told that within the hour (the ruling is) going to be slammed down, but that's only going to be temporary," Ferguson said, holding up his marriage license as other couples streamed into the building, hoping to be married. "I was not expecting this. Not today. … It's an amazing Christmas surprise."

Julie Hall and her wife, Babs De Lay, celebrate their marriage. Hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Julie Hall and her wife, Babs De Lay, celebrate their marriage. Hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Ferguson and Anderson became engaged over the summer and had been planning a trip to California to be married. When they arrived at the office and requested a license, the clerks were baffled, they said.

"I was starting to wonder (if it would happen)," said Anderson, who waited nervously as the office conferred. "Everybody was in disbelief. Everyone was like, 'Did this really just happen in Utah?'"

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, who has been open about being gay since his time as a state senator, was also in line. He was met in the lobby by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who performed the marriage for Dabakis and his partner of 27 years, Stephen Justesen.

"This is the spirit of giving," Becker told the couple as they stood in front of a Christmas tree. "Today, Judge Shelby has given a great gift."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker hugs state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Utah, prior to performing a marriage ceremony between Jim and his partner, Stephen Justesen. Hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker hugs state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Utah, prior to performing a marriage ceremony between Jim and his partner, Stephen Justesen. Hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Becker, along with other religious leaders and attorneys, stayed in the building to perform marriage after marriage.

"That's the great message of today — all Utah families are equal and special," Dabakis, a state senator representing Salt Lake City, told the cheering crowd. "I had my doubts (this would happen), but we're glad we waited to be married in Utah."

Excited couples greeted each other as they hurried into the building, some still dressed from work, others carrying bouquets they picked up on the way.

"Are you getting married?" was the question on everyone's lips.

The clerk's office remained open two hours past closing time, processing applications for those who made it into the line before 5 p.m. Those who didn't make it in were told to return when the office reopens at 8 a.m. Monday.

Jim Dabakis and his husband, Stephen Justesen, embrace after being married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker as hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Jim Dabakis and his husband, Stephen Justesen, embrace after being married by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker as hundreds turn out to obtain marriage licenses Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, in the Salt Lake County offices after a federal judge ruled that Amendment 3, Utah's same-sex marriage ban, is unconstitutional. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Some protested, remaining in line another 45 minutes and shouting for the clerks to reopen the office.

Dabakis addressed the dwindling crowd, announcing he was attempting to contact Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen to petition the office be opened on Saturday to assist the couples who didn't receive a license.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com, Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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