UPDATE: In June 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that it is unconstitutional to deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. The ruling is on hold pending an attempt to seek cert at the Supreme Court. Same-sex couples, local activists, and advocates across the United States will not rest until all Utahns have the freedom to marry once and for all in their home state. Here is the story of one couple who have vowed to fight.
On a Friday afternoon in the middle of December 2013, Rion Locke and Richard Miller were getting ready to leave their home in Sandy, UT for a winter vacation to Palm Springs, CA when they received an urgent, ecstatic message from their niece: A federal judge had struck down the ban on same-sex couples from marrying in Utah and, effective immediately, same-sex couples were being issued marriage licenses.
They couldn't make it down to the court house before it closed that afternoon, but they knew it was important to marry as soon as possible, to finally receive legal respect for their relationship of nearly 40 years, since they knew the state of Utah intended to pursue a stay on the ruling. They were set to leave for vacation the next morning, but instead, they drove to the clerk's office in Weber County, standing with other same-sex couples outside in the cold.
The clerk's office didn't open, an attempt by marriage opponents to again delay justice to loving same-sex couples. Feeling angry and rejected, Richard and Rion, who own and operate an interior design firm together, left for vacation. But when they returned, they were determined to finally be treated with respect.
On January 2, with Rion's sister as a witness, the couple stood before a minister, exchanged vows, and said I do.
Behind that "I do" stood the many commitments that Richard and Rion have made to each other over the past forty years - "I do" promise to love you for the rest of my life. "I do" vow to combine our passions, build a business, create a career alongside you. "I do" commit to standing beside you - to supporting you when things are hard or when you are sick or when the world seems stacked against us.
"It really was such a flow of emotion for me," Rion said. "I lost it and cried - and afterward, we spoke about how we really did feel different, even after the length of time we have been together."
"For a few days, it was great," Rion said. "Then our governor stepped in."
After having requests for a stay denied again and again by the district court and by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will likely hear oral arguments in the appeal in March, the state of Utah's request was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 6.
Now, Richard and Rion are one of 1,300 same-sex couples in the state who are being treated as legally married by the U.S. government - and many other states with the freedom to marry - but are being disrespected by Utah, the state that issued their marriage license. They're speaking up now about why marriage matters - why they should be treated with respect, and why all couples in Utah should have the freedom to marry.
Rion Locke is amazed and grateful that his home state has become the epicenter of the national conversation about why marriage matters to same-sex couples. Growing up, especially being raised by a a family devoted to the Mormon Church, he wasn't sure that he would ever be able to publicly and legally declare his love for another man.
Rion fell in love when he was 17, when he met Richard Miller in the summer of 1976 while they both worked at an upscale clothing store in Utah.
"I was working at the warehouse, and Richard was attending a meeting there," Rion explained. "I was bringing packing slips to the secretary for accounting, and he was sitting in the lobby. I noticed him first thing: He was very handsome, had curly thick black hair, was tan and dressed to impressed. He smiled at me - my heart stopped."
A few months later, Rion was transferred from the warehouse to working in the men's department of the retail shop. On his first day, he made the rounds to meet his co-workers - and one of them, by chance, was Richard.
"I was so happy to see him," Rion said. "I couldn't believe I got to work with him."
The men became friends, and for months they got to know each other, bonding about work and sharing their experiences about growing up Mormon.
"One night, I told him I needed to tell him something, but that I was worried I would lose his friendship," Rion said. "I worked up the nerve to kiss him. I told him that I had wanted to for a very long time. I told him I was in love with him. And the rest is history."
They've certainly lived through a lot of history: They leaned on each other for support as their social circle grew tragically smaller when AIDS crisis swept through the 80s. They cared for each other when Richard lost a sibling to cancer, when Rion's parents passed away, and as they recuperated from major surgeries. They saw their rights put to a vote in the state of Utah when Amendment 3 was pushed through by marriage opponents in 2004. And now, a decade later, they're seeing how much the world has changed.
They're seeing a stunning evolution take place in the country - and they're speaking out against people working to hold their state back from extending dignity and respect to all loving couples and families in Utah.
When Governor Herbert and the state of Utah desperately sought to delay justice in the state even further, eventually being granted a stay in the ruling as the appeals court considers the case, they dealt a blow to Rion, Rich, and the 1,300 other same-sex couples who received valid marriage licenses.
"It's been depressing since the stay went into effect," Rion said. "We're being told again by the governor that we are going to be the downfall of humanity - we're being once again slammed back down to second-class status after being granted the freedom to marry."
Still, Richard and Rion know that love will win in the Beehive State. They're standing alongside the many other Utahns - the same-sex couples who are married, the couples who want to marry, and the families and loved ones who support them - and they are continuing to raise their voices about why marriage matters.
"I don't need to have a piece of paper to validate my love or commitment to Richard," Rion said. "But still - it was nice to call him my husband. It's been a long struggle for me, so to be able to say that the guy I've loved for 40 years is my spouse, my husband not just in my heart but legally recognized, it means a lot – and all couples should be able to experience that feeling."