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For gay couples, high court decision makes unions 'official'

SALT LAKE CITY — Sheri Ault and Leslie McWilliams are packing up their belongings, heading out of Utah in a couple of days to begin retirement in Florida.

When they leave, they will exit this state as a legally married couple and take one more thing with them they hadn't necessarily planned on — a marriage certificate that says their vows repeated Monday put them on equal legal footing with married heterosexual couples.

"This was one more thing on a bucket list to do," said Ault, smiling in the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office Monday. "We just didn't plan on doing this today; but all we were doing anyway is packing."

Not long afterward, Ault and McWilliams were married on the second floor of the Salt Lake County Government Center by the Rev. Heron/Tara Sudweeks Willgues of The Church of the Sacred Circle. Their witnesses included a throng of reporters and photographers.

The Monday refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the arguments of five states — Utah included — that defined marriage as between a man and a woman means gay couples can now legalize their unions.

"These are rights you need to have," Ault said, noting that another couple they know experienced all sorts of hardship because they lacked any legal standing to be involved in critical decisions.

"This just seals it for us," added McWilliams, "and now we are on to another new adventure."

Kelli Frame and Suzanne Marelius were the first same-sex couple to get into the Salt Lake County offices Monday to fill out license paperwork.

"We don't have to rush like the folks who did it last December, so we're going to take a little time," Frame said, adding that an Oct. 24 wedding is planned.

By midday, several couples had filtered into the second floor offices to fill out the paperwork for their pending nuptials.

While the media glare was intense, the day lacked any of the frenzy that existed in that 17-day window in December and January after a federal judge ruled Utah's prohibition on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and before the state of Utah obtained a stay of that decision.

"We figured in that time we saw 100 or more couples in that first three hours of opening our offices," said Weber County Clerk Auditor Ricky D. Hatch. "I'd never seen such a rush on marriage licenses."

It was definitely less hectic Monday with only two couples applying for a license, but Hatch made it clear: "We are open for business; that is our position."

As news of the shifting marital landscape continued to play out, couples began showing up at clerks' offices to bring legal consummation to their relationship — something they said had been out of reach for too long.

"We are finally a family, both emotionally and legally," said Gregory Enke, with tears in his eyes. "It has been very heartbreaking for us to have this denied. … This helps us to feel validated."

Enke, with his partner Ariel Ulloa, were the third same sex couple of the day at the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office, and after filling out the paperwork, they waited for family to show up before they were to be married by Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake.

"We have finally achieved that moment where we can feel at ease," Ulloa said.

Jackie Biskupski, Utah's first openly gay lawmaker, now works across the hall from the clerk's office and stepped into the commons area to watch couples filtering in.

"This is exciting," she said, noting the day reminded her of that frantic period last December and January when she married 50 same-sex couples.

"Now that this is settled, the focus is getting adoptions done for those couples. That will be the No. 1 priority for them."

The celebration continued Monday night as hundreds gathered at Library Square for a rally, giving a loud and long standing ovation to the plaintiffs and lawyers in the case challenging Utah's nearly 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage. Couples came carrying signs declaring "I love my husband" and "I love my wife," dancing and singing as they waited for the event.

Troy Williams, newly installed as director of Equality Utah, joined several speakers in congratulating the crowd on its successes attending rallies, writing letters, and talking with friends and families to promote changing the state's marriage laws.

Those efforts must continue, Williams said, as LGBT Utahns continue conversations with those around them and reconnect with friends or family they my have argued with.

"Now is the time to reach out and love them," he urged.

Williams and others also emphasized that the focus must now be placed on establishing non-discrimination protections.

Steph Turpin and Korni Brey, a couple of 11 years now living in Sugar House, shared hugs with many at the rally as they described their upcoming wedding plans. The two women picked up a marriage license in December 2013, but failed to wed before a stay was issued.

Brey's mother passed away since then, adding urgency to the couple's plans. They rushed to pick up a new license Monday and begin plans for a ceremony.

"We always remained hopeful, but very scared at the same time," Brey said. "I mean, she's the love of my life. To have this be legal is just an overwhelming blessing for me."

The couple plans to be married in the next month.

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