The women are still getting used to saying that. After all, it’s hardly been three days.
“It feels really weird calling her my wife, saying we’re married,” said Winburn, her green eyes darting to find Fowler’s blue ones. “But it also feels really cool.”
Christmas this year brought the warm consistency of tradition, of family and friends, of food and gifts and decorations hung with care.
But it also brought the realization that in the five days since U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages, so much had changed — for Fowler, 35, and Winburn, 37, and for hundreds of other gay and lesbian couples throughout Utah.
“For me, it wasn’t about being able to say, ‘Oh, now we’re married,’ or having the piece of paper to prove it,” Winburn said. “It’s about equal rights. It’s about being able to put (Fowler) on my health insurance and have a joint bank account and a house and be a legally recognized family. Now we are.”
From day one, Fowler and Winburn’s relationship has been something of a whirlwind.
They met three years ago at the Garage, a bar in Salt Lake City where Winburn worked.
Fowler, a short, dynamic woman with bright eyes and an easy smile, had slipped Winburn her phone number after some prodding from her friends.
Winburn never called.
Weeks later, Fowler returned to the bar and gave Winburn an ultimatum: “Seems to me you’ve got two choices,” said Fowler, who was there celebrating her graduation from the University of Utah’s law school. “You can give me your phone number so I can call you, or you can tell me you don’t want to hear from me and I’ll leave you alone.”
Winburn smiled. She gave Fowler her phone number and bought her a beer.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Just one day later, Winburn tagged along to meet Fowler’s family. She played golf with her mom, ate dinner with her dad.
“We were stuck with each other after that,” Fowler said.
So, when the news broke that same-sex couples were being issued marriage licenses in Salt Lake County on Friday (Dec. 20), mere minutes after Shelby ruled Utah’s Amendment 3 unconstitutional, the women decided to take a chance.
Fowler found Winburn at work.
She knew Winburn wasn’t sold on the idea of marriage. Winburn had dismissed it for three years.
But on Friday, Winburn got down on one knee.
She didn’t have a ring, but she didn’t need one to make Fowler cry.
“I started hyperventilating,” Fowler said. “But Pidge was so calm about it. She was just like, ‘You want to do this, right? Let’s go.’ ”
The couple waited in line until the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office closed for the day. They left without a license.
They returned to the clerk’s office at 6:30 Monday morning. The line that stretched ahead of them wrapped around the building.
Fowler, an attorney, knew that the federal judge who had struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban would be hearing the state’s motion for an emergency stay to put a stop to same-sex unions in a few short hours. If the judge sided with Utah, no more licenses would be issued.
“I was so nervous,” Fowler said.
It took eight hours to reach the front of the line.
Their two friends L. Villalva and Selina Gorst, who had been married just hours before, served as their witnesses.
When the officiant asked for the rings, Winburn and Fowler pulled out small turquoise pieces made by Fowler’s 8-year-old niece, with rhinestones spelling out the women’s initials.
They’ll have a more traditional ceremony later. Up in the mountains, surrounded by parents and siblings, they’ll exchange rings designed by a jeweler and pose for pictures taken with a real camera, rather than a cellphone.
They discussed these plans energetically on Christmas morning as Villalva and Gorst sat nearby, sipping coffee from matching mugs adorned with the letters “Mrs.”
Along the inside rim was a Bible verse from Song of Solomon: “I found the one my heart loves.”
On Thursday, Utah will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay that would stop same-sex marriages pending an appeal of Shelby’s ruling in the 10th Circuit. It will be the state’s fifth attempt since Shelby’s ruling — Shelby himself denied Utah’s request on Monday and the appellate court refused Utah’s motion for a third time on Tuesday, after finding that the state did not stand a “significant likelihood of success” on appeal and was suffering no “irreparable harm” by allowing the marriages.
(Marissa Lang writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)
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