I work at a military installation where traditions run high. Being proud of who we are and what we do to support our warfighters is part of everyday life. I have been a contractor for 27 years at Hill Air Force Base, UT, and never expected our base, located in conservative Utah, to take the lead in standing up for LGBT Pride.
I’ve never been more proud of where I work than when I received an email stating the following: “The Department of Defense (DoD) joins the Nation in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month during the month of June. We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain cornerstones of our military and civilian culture. Let's encourage our DoD personnel to recognize the accomplishments of all members of our workforce, and in doing so, celebrate the significance of diversity in building a brighter future for all citizens.”
The email was soliciting volunteers to head up a Hill Pride Committee. I sat alone in my office, raising my hand to volunteer to no one, as I desperately wanted to be part of this committee. When I approached my boss about getting involved, he said I was cleared to take part as long as the meetings didn’t interfere with my work. I’d also have to participate on my own time and use vacation to attend meetings and events planned. That was minor, as I was already eager to get started.
As it turns out, Hill AFB is the first military installation in the United States to stand up and support LGBT activities during the month of Pride. This couldn’t come at a more important time in our state of Utah either, as the Kitchen v. Herbert case is currently awaiting a decision from the 10th Circuit Court out of Denver.
The word is just starting to get out that Hill AFB is supporting Pride by holding activities on the Base. The Hill Pride Committee has been working on three major activities: 1) an LGBT Information Fair; 2) Pride Night event; and 3) Keynote Luncheon. All three activities will take place after the Utah Pride Festival events unfold the first full weekend in June in Salt Lake City.
The Base is holding an LGBT Information Fair where my wife and I will sponsor a booth representing Marriage Equality USA. Other organizations attending the Info Fair include Restore Our Humanity, Utah Pride Center, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Utah, PFLAG Utah, Volunteers of America, Department of Veterans Affairs LGBT Veterans Program, Family Acceptance Project, Rainbow Law, among several other noteworthy organizations within our community. The LGBT Information Fair is being held on Wednesday, 11 June.
In addition, a Pride Night is also being held on Saturday, 21 June. The evening will feature a variety of performances from people in our LGBT community to include a slam poet and several talented musicians.
The first-ever Hill Pride activities will culminate with a Keynote Luncheon on Tuesday, 24 June, where Kristin Beck, a former decorated Navy Seal and transgender woman will be the keynote speaker. She recently finished a movie called Lady Valor which chronicles her life.
The Hill Pride Committee is working hard to set the bar high and lead the way for other military installations to follow us in the years ahead. Hill AFB intends to celebrate Pride month every June so we want to ensure this first-ever occurrence is successful!
By Colleen Mewing, Local Organizer, Utah Regional Operating Committee, Marriage Equality USA.
Last month in Denver, Jolene Mewing attended the Tenth Circuit's oral arguments for Kitchen v. Herbert, the Utah marriage equality case. Jolene gives us her first-person perspective on the hearing from her seat inside the courtroom.
The week leading up to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ hearing in the Kitchen v. Herbert case was full of excitement and anxiety. My wife and I attended a send-off rally for the plaintiffs to show the community is behind them and supports everything they have done for all of us.
Once I reached Denver, it was time to head to a rally on the steps of the Byron White United States Courthouse, where the 10th Circuit Court is located. The press was already there in full force garnering details and background information they could work into their stories. The weather was beautiful and perfect.
The rally was held the night prior to the case being heard beyond the doors to this illustrious building. The rally was put on by Why Marriage Matters Colorado. The energy level was high as a DJ cranked out music that was positive and charged. Guest speakers empowered the crowd, which started to grow in numbers.
Thursday morning (10 April 2014) I arrived at the courthouse early to ensure a place inside the actual courtroom. There was an overflow room, too; however, I had been handed number 42, which guaranteed a place inside the courtroom where history would be made.
The three judges presiding over the case, Carlos Lucero, Jerome Holmes, and Paul Kelly, loomed powerful over the courtroom. Their many years of experience was etched on each of their faces. I looked at them thinking the fate of marriage equality in Utah rests in their hands. I was nervous. The plaintiffs were sitting on a bench behind their attorneys; I could only wonder what they were feeling inside.
Peggy Tomsic commanded the room for the plaintiffs while Gene Schaerr represented the State of Utah. Both were to speak for 30 minutes each but were allotted more time due to interruptions by the judges throughout their statements.
Besides the extreme injustice of the case itself, what makes this case even more intolerable is the fact our family’s state income tax dollars are being used to pay for this case—our very own money is being used to fight against our right for marriage equality. That sickens me inside.
Once started, the courtroom was quiet except for those asking and answering the questions. Many times the judges spoke over the attorneys, cutting them off in mid-sentence. A few times, there was a little laughter, soon followed by the stark seriousness of the morning’s circumstance.
I sat in silence as I watched history happening in front of me. I was here to support the plaintiffs and to be part of something bigger than I could ever imagine. When I left the courtroom, my emotions were all over the place. The murmurs started as people were speculating which way the court would lean. In my heart, I know the judges will make the right decision. I also know that whatever way the 10th Circuit Court rules, there will be an appeal, which means more of our taxpayer dollars will be used to fight against the marriage of me to my wife.
I always felt I’d see marriage equality in my lifetime—I just didn’t think it would happen this quickly or that Utah would play such a pivotal role in marriage equality for all the states. After attending the hearing in Denver, I know marriage equality is closer than it’s ever been. I also know we are on the right side of history as we watch it unfold before us.
By Jolene Mewing, Local Organizer, Utah Regional Operating Committee, Marriage Equality USA.
As I stood in line in hopes of receiving my Utah State marriage license, I did not feel excited, hopeful, or joyful. In fact, I felt pathetic, foolish, and less than. As I turned to look at the beautiful woman standing next to me, the woman who has been standing by my side for the last 27 years, I felt a sense of overwhelming sadness. She—we—deserved better than this. Better than standing in a line in the freezing cold hoping a door would open both literally and figuratively. Our love, our union, our struggles, our family deserved better than desperately standing in the freezing cold awaiting doors to open at the Weber County Clerk’s Office in Ogden, Utah. We had been up early with the hope of counties opening their doors and allowing us to receive a marriage license. We had driven around for hours from county to county trying to find the one government office that possessed the courage to follow the court order and issue marriage licenses to its gay and lesbian citizens. We now stood in line with hundreds of people with a small glimmer of hope and yet, my heart and soul felt so very heavy.
My thoughts were suddenly jolted as the phone in my pocket began to ring. I looked at the caller ID and answered the phone, “Hi baby.”
“Hi Mom. Ya’ll getting married?”
“Well son, we are in the line waiting.” I didn’t want to say more as the excitement in his voice was so innocent and sweet; yet in my head I felt those doors were never going to open. His voice pulled me back to the phone.
“I’m hungry,” he said. These are two very familiar words, which we hear multiple times on a daily basis. As an 18 year old boy, his mind was focused on only a few needs.
“Ok,” I said. “Are your sister and brother-in-law on their way to the house?”
“Yes,” he answered. “They are on their way.”
“Ok, son. Tell her to pick up something on her way or make yourself a sandwich.”
“Ok mom, love ya.” “Love you buddy,” I replied. “See ya soon.”
As I placed the phone back in my pocket, an overwhelming sense of disappointment and a familiar despair began to enter my thoughts. Being an attorney and a Mormon, I knew my attempt to gain a marriage license in the State of Utah would be futile. I would once again have to explain to our children that while God loved our family, there are still people here on Earth who do not understand His love and compassion. So often we are asked, “Why do you live in Utah?” That answer is simple: Utah is our home. We have lived in the south, too. I am Mormon while Brenda, my partner of 27 years, is Catholic. We have no spiritual home, as our religions remain firm in their beliefs denying rights to their gay members. The truth is—we love Utah. We love the culture. We love the people. We don’t drink; we don’t smoke, and we are raising kids. We love raising our kids in Utah. We fit in quite nicely except for one small detail—we happen to be two women in love with each other.
My toes are freezing as I stand in this long line. To distract myself from the elements, my thoughts travel back to less than 30 days ago when I received a call from our daughter.
“Hey baby girl. How’s your day?”
“Good,” she says. “Bryce and I just got our marriage license!”
“Glad ya’ll finally got your license,” I express. “The wedding is only two days away. Did it take you long to get it?”
“Nope—just walked right in,” she says. “Had to drive all the way to Provo though because the Draper office was closed—but there was no line.”
At this point, there were several hundred people waiting in our line. How ironic that less than 30 days ago we were celebrating the legal marriage of our daughter. My thoughts quickly go back to last month when my partner and I proudly walked our daughter down the aisle to marry. There were close to 400 guests. We walked her to the front of the room, and a Mormon Bishop married her. The ceremony was beautiful.
Once again, I am brought back to the present moment as my phone rings again.
“Hey baby girl.”
“Are ya’ll almost done? We are here at the house to make Christmas cookies like we planned.”
“Well babe,” I say. “This is taking a bit longer. Can you tell your cousins that it will be later in the day before we get back to make cookies?”
“Ok,” she answers, “but hurry. Love you.”
“I love you, too. See ya soon.”
Now my thoughts are a bit frustrated. We had planned to make Christmas cookies and treats with my sisters, nieces, and nephews—all of whom are Mormon (which is irrelevant, but thought you all should know). I am upset that chasing a marriage license has taken away our family time together—time we cannot get back. This is not fair and is wrong in so many ways. There is a rustle in the crowd as the Weber County door opens and cheers erupt. I quickly make my way to the front of the line to hear the announcement. The cheers turn to moans as it is announced the clerk cannot let us in.
Humiliated, I grab Brenda’s hand and say “Let’s go.” On the long drive back home, we discuss the legal significance of Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling and contemplate the behind-the-scenes scenario that must be taking place with the government leaders and of course “the church” leaders, AKA, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints." As silence replaces our words, my mind once again begins to wander. I think about the legal argument the state presented in denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The best interest of children always becomes relevant. The state argued being raised by a father and mother is the optimal situation in producing well-adjusted children.
Who did that study? No one has ever contacted us to be part of a study. No one has evaluated our two straight children—whom, of course, their moms think are amazing. Ok, my biased thoughts aside—our kids—a girl and a boy, should be judged on their own merits. Our straight daughter just married an amazing man and is in her final year of college as a biochemistry major. She is beautiful from the inside out. She is smart, caring, loving, and has a great sense of humor. Our son is kind, smart, funny, and an incredible athlete who has received an offer to play collegiate baseball. They are really good kids based on the standards of society and both of them are straight.
I, on the other hand, was raised by one male and one female; both straight. In fact, my father was a Mormon Bishop, Stake President, and Mission President. Brenda was raised by one male and one female; both straight, who are Catholic. We were raised in the optimal situation according to the state, but both of us turned out gay. So if being gay is "bad"—an abomination, and allowing gay people to marry will destroy marriage and society, then producing gay children must be considered bad and undesirable. Accordingly, our parents failed the state test. If the rationale of the state’s arguments was to be applied to Brenda and me, and recognizing our union produced two well-adjusted straight children, then we should be allowed to marry. Our parents should have been forced to divorce. Certainly producing gay children from a straight marriage is a detriment to society and traditional marriage, right?
Legal marriages should be defined as a union between two loving and committing adults who wish to share legally protected state and federal rights. Legal marriage should remain about legal rights—not religious definitions. The constitution unequivocally protects the right to freedom of religion and yet it is very clear that the separation of church and state is an intricate part in producing a democratic state of the union. While marriage is a spiritual act in religion, it is a legal act in governing. The government must provide all legal rights and protection under the law to all people equally. Religions do now and can continue to deny members rights based upon their beliefs. Religions remain divided on the definition of marriage and treatment of their gay members and that is perfectly within their rights to do so. The government should provide one legal definition of marriage that applies to all citizens equally. It is their duty to do so.
Let’s be honest here. My life has been way more difficult having been gay than my children’s lives have been. I have been faced with trials and obstacles that I never thought possible to overcome. I spent thousands of hours of counsel with church leaders; thousands of hours in prayer and nothing worked—nothing made me straight. I even joined the God Squad and Fellowship of Christian Athletes and got "saved" at my friend’s southern church. I tried everything to become straight to no avail. Alternatively, my children who are a product of a gay relationship are straight and have it much easier than we ever did. So suffice it to say that in this scenario, the best interest of the children was to be raised by a gay couple. Accordingly, Brenda and I should be married as we have produced straight, well-adjusted children.
The result of this rationale is absurd as I hope everyone can see this. While the government, the state, and the courts determine the fate of our access to equal protection and legal rights, please include our children in your studies. Please include all the gay children who were produced by straight religious parents to determine and define legal marriage. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech remain in place to protect the views of those religions and people who consider homosexual acts and people as an abomination. It provides them the rationale to deny my legal right to marry the person I love. I choose to be judged by my God only. I choose to live in a country where I know my leaders will protect my legal rights and provide me equal protection under the laws of this great nation.
My heart is heavy, and I am tired. I can no longer remain silent on this issue. I can no longer stand to hear that children are better off being raised by a man and a woman. The studies undeniably show children who are raised by loving, supportive parents—regardless of their gender or sexual orientation—are well-adjusted children. Our children are proof. Moreover, the fact that I am gay is not a result of my environment as five of the six siblings raised by my parents are straight. I was created from the same DNA and the same God and I am gay. God created me just as He did my brother and sisters. God does not create mistakes, and I am not a mistake. I am not a product of a broken home. I am a product of two amazing, loving parents who believe in God, the Bible, morals and standards, and who raised me to believe the same. They did not fail by producing me.
Brenda and I have now raised two children with those same standards and beliefs. We just had to do it on our own and without the loving support of a religious institution and congregation can provide. We never found a home or felt welcome in our place of worship so we had to teach our children that they are children of God who are loved and are to serve Him and honor Him and our family name. We have never been legally recognized so we had to tell our children that our relationship and our family are valid and real.
I have always known in my heart and head there would come a time when we would find legal recognition and spiritual acceptance. It is time. The time is now. We can wait no more. And, thankfully, we succeeded in exchanging our vows on December 23, just in time for Christmas.
By Sally Farrar
The message came through at 1:53 pm on Friday: “KSL NEWSRADIO: Fed judge rules Utah’s Amendment 3 unconstitutional. Amend 3 denies marriage between 1 woman & 1 man and bans gay marriage.” A little cheer escaped my lips as I sat in my office in disbelief. I immediately called Jolene, my wife of 23 days after our marriage in Vancouver, WA, and told her the news. I asked her to search online to see if she could find out if it was true. In the meantime, the Salt Lake Tribune website issued a release stating that Amendment 3 had been struck down. I had been working with our Corporate office concerning a ‘same sex tax’ they were deducting from my paycheck to cover Jolene on my health insurance. I sent them the Salt Lake Tribune article with a note that it was time for them to quit deducting the same sex tax from my pay. I haven’t been to work since, so do not know what kind of reply I have waiting for me at work.
Jolene called and asked me when I could leave work so we could take part in the celebrations. I told her I could head out at 2:30. Before heading home, I shared the great news with several coworkers. We knew that our marriage in Washington State would now be recognized in Utah. There is no reason for us to get married again; however, we wanted to join others who were headed to the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office to obtain their marriage licenses.
We had no idea what we would encounter once we arrived. As we entered the first floor of the Salt Lake County Building, Utah State Senator, Jim Dabakis had just married his long-time partner, Stephen Justeson. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was their wedding officiant! Cheers were ringing out as another marriage had just been completed down an adjacent hallway. People were everywhere…. Smiles were on their faces and tears were in their eyes. We were witnessing marriage equality in our home State of Utah for the very first time on the first day same sex marriages could be performed. It was history in the making!
We headed to the second floor where the County Clerk’s office had a line out the door that went clear down the hall. People were scrambling to get into line; someone was handing out marriage license applications which still listed "Groom" and "Bride" as the registrants. Couples were filling out the paperwork and were scratching out either groom or bride and writing in the respective person they were marrying. People had looks of disbelief and joy on their faces. Jolene and I kept looking at each other, not believing this moment had actually arrived. We would tear up, smile and continue looking through the crowd.
There were several wedding officiants performing weddings on-the-spot for free! Jolene is also a registered wedding officiant and performed one wedding before the night was over.
The Salt Lake County Clerk’s office normally closes at 5 pm on Fridays. At that time, they determined where the end of the line was and said the office would officially close after those people received their paperwork. People still continued to arrive and get in line. It was 7:10 pm by the time those at the demarcation point had paid their $40 processing fee and received their official marriage application! The clerk’s doors were closed and Salt Lake County Sheriff personnel stood their ground, not letting anyone else in.
Those remaining in line were listless as they knew a stay was being worked which would permanently close the door until the appeals process could be finished. Tears flowed freely as hopes were being taken away. State Senator Jim Dabakis addressed the crowd and said he would do everything he could to get the doors opened on Saturday so the issuance of marriage licenses could continue. That, however, did not happen.
The only place open on Saturday was the Weber County Clerk’s office in Ogden, UT. Several friends had contacted Jolene and asked if she would marry them on Saturday, so we headed to the Weber County Clerk’s office. Unlike the Salt Lake office, those in line in Ogden had to wait outside in freezing cold temperatures. Many were there for several hours before it was announced that Weber County would not be handing out any marriage licenses that day. The crowd was stunned. We have to wait until Monday to see what comes next.
By Colleen Mewing