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.
It was the middle of the afternoon on Friday, December 20, and Jo and Lindi Barney were in the process of getting their family ready for a pajama party. But as the women finished dressing their kids in pajamas featuring Olaf the snowman from the new animated Disney movie Frozen, they started seeing amazing headlines appear on their Facebook pages - headlines they certainly didn't expect to see in 2013: "Federal judge strikes down Utah ban on same-sex marriage."
Jo and Lindi have lived in Salt Lake City, Utah all their lives. And in their four years as a couple, they had again and again been told by their home state that their relationship was not important and did not merit legal respect. Stunned at the news about the court ruling, Jo called her friend, an attorney who had helped write legal briefs in favor of marriage for same-sex couples before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. He advised them that in case the state of Utah was successful in their attempt to get a stay on the ruling, they should head to the court house and get married immediately.
"We were all wearing Olaf the Snowman pajamas," Jo said. "My hair was still wet from a shower, we had no make-up on, and we knew we didn't have time to find a babysitter."
But it didn't matter: they turned to each other, grinned, and made the decision together - "Let's go!"
With both kids in tow, they raced to the county recorder's office in Salt Lake City, arriving just before 4:00, an hour before the office would close for the day. They stood in line with more than 100 other loving same-sex couples, said their vows in front of the same attorney friend (who happened to also be a licensed minister), and signed their marriage license.
At last, they were legally married in the state of Utah.
"We were married in our pajamas while holding our two babies - babies that this state had always said could not be both of ours," Lindi said, citing laws in Utah that preclude same-sex couples from jointly adopting children. "For the first time, that mountain of inequality in Utah was crumbling."
On Monday, December 23 at 9am MST, a trial court in Utah will review a request for a stay on Friday's ruling, which would halt marriages between same-sex couples while the ruling is appealed.
"We know that the state will appeal," Jo said. "We know the potential for the ruling to be overturned exists. But we also know that there are thousands of people who are going to fight for our basic human rights - our family among them. None of us are going to rest until equality is achieved, and ultimately there will come a time when the wall of inequality will crumble for good."
* * *
Jo and Lindi seem to have a history of experiencing important life moments together while wearing goofy outfits - the first time they met, in fact, was at an "Ugly Sweater" party organized by a mutual friend in 2008.
"I won first place," Jo said, laughing. "Clearly, Lindi was extremely impressed with the giant puffed-out stocking on my sweater that had a Christmas bear and real candy canes coming out of it. I mean - it was very attractive."
They struck up a friendship, but they didn't really reconnect until a few months later, when they had dinner for the first time.
"I don't even remember eating that night," Jo said. "I just remember us talking. And talking. And talking. We talked about every part of our lives - our families, our beliefs, our hopes for the future."
They continued talking and talking, although both of their lives were busy. Over time, they developed a deep trust - a deep confidence in each other.
Jo remembers the exact moment: They were having a conversation, and it just clicked, immediately. "We were talking, and Lindi was able to hear my fears and somehow calm them - not by her words, but through her presence," Jo said. "I knew that her life would be about my life. I knew that her concern was for my happiness. And all of a sudden one day, in one conversation, I knew this was the girl I was going to marry."
After that conversation, Jo knew that she needed to see Lindi in person - she needed to give her a letter that she had written years prior, when she had had her heart broken and coped by writing a note addressed simply to "The One I Hoped to Find."
"I knew that letter was meant for Lindi, and for some reason, I needed her to have it right then," Jo said.
It read, in part: "The day I find you, I believe the words that were once familiar in my life will take on a different meaning - 'I know how this ends' will simply precede the words, 'Happily Ever After.'"
* * *
Jo and Lindi's marriage license in Utah was a reaffirmation of their marriage license from California, which they received on October 15, 2013. They wanted to be clear that they were married in their home state of Utah - and since they expect a long process of appeals and in-fighting in the state of Utah, they wanted to secure these state protections for their family, leaving nothing to chance or uncertainty or legal loophole.
"When we got home from getting our marriage license in California, none of it applied in Utah," Lindi said. "All of a sudden, our kids weren't legally both of our kids, medical insurance didn't have to be offered, last names couldn't easily be changed. We wanted so many things that people take for granted because they receive them so easily - and we had done everything we could to legalize our marriage. But none of it applied where we live."
When they received their marriage license this October, they Jo and Lindi were following through with the legal aspect of their wedding ceremony back in 2010, when same-sex couples did not have the freedom to marry in California.
They stood beside every member of their large families and declared their love and commitment for each other on the beaches of La Jolla, celebrating later with a larger reception in Utah.
Their ceremony included their 4-month-old daughter, Kylen, who they welcomed into their life in June 2010.
"She so quickly became the light of our life," Lindi explained. "There is something about this girl that is going to change the world - she is as amazing as they come."
Six weeks ago, in November 2013, they had their second daughter, Tyce. "We are so happy that we have each other," Jo said. "We are so grateful to be a family."
* * *
Jo and Lindi received an amazing gift for their family this week in Utah - the power to legally say "I Do" in the state where they grew up, fell in love, and built a family.
On Friday, they stood in the county recorder's office with dozens of same-sex couples and hundreds of people who support marriage for same-sex couples. And that feeling itself - the feeling of legal respect, at last, in their home, felt amazing.
"The atmosphere on Friday was electric," Jo said. "I was so proud to be standing next to so many people who had dropped everything to run down and get married - people who had been denied the fundamental right for so long."
"They weren't bitter that they were getting married in hallways," Jo added. "They weren't angry that their required witnesses were complete strangers in line behind them. They didn't mind that their wedding day wasn't all about them, because they were sharing it with hundreds of total strangers. No - they were all there smiling, hugging each other, crying tears of joy. They were finally being treated as equals - and they were enjoying that moment."