Workers in the Tooele County Clerk’s office were swamped in a pre-Christmas rush by same-sex couples that wanted to get hitched.
A total of 29 marriage licenses were issued by the office Monday alone, up dramatically from the office’s usual workload. Of those marriage licenses, 24 were issued to same-sex couples who were taking advantage of the strike-down of Utah Amendment 3, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Through Christmas, a total of 377 marriage licenses have been issued this year, including Monday’s rush, for an average of a little under two per day. Tooele County Clerk Marilyn Gillette said the spike was far outside the norm.
“It’s highly unusual,” she said. “We have days where we don’t do any and are busy with something else, and then days where we’ll do three or four. But the number we did Monday was way higher than usual.”
Among those two dozen same-sex couples were Darvey Hinton and Daniel Hansen, a couple from Sandy who had been together for 11 years. Hansen said they visited the Tooele County Clerk’s office after hearing about enormous lines at the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office for marriage licenses.
“Instead of waiting for six hours, I said, ‘Let’s drive 40 minutes and do it in Tooele,’” said Hansen, 41. “We called and they said there was no line.”
Although there was a line of couples waiting for Gillette when she opened at 7 a.m. Monday, the crowd had vanished by early afternoon when Hinton and Hansen came in. They were planning on getting married Monday night at their home.
County clerks began issuing licenses to same-sex couples, in addition to traditional couples Friday, after federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah’s constitutional amendment regarding marriage was unconstitutional. The amendment passed by nearly 66 percent of voters in 2004.
Some offices began issuing them immediately, while others, such as Tooele, began Monday because their offices were closed Friday. Still others—Box Elder, Cache, Juab, Piute, San Juan and Utah Counties—closed their offices entirely.
Much of the rush for same-sex couples likely came not only from a sudden ability to get lawfully married in the state, but also from a fear that the ruling would be reversed. Three requests for stays by the Utah Attorney General’s Office were denied Monday; the office filed an appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals later that day.
“My 80-year-old mother said, ‘You better do it before they repeal it. Strike while the iron’s hot,’” said Hinton, 48. “It’s so interesting being on this side of history instead of hearing about it or reading about it. I thought we’d be the last state to [allow same-sex marriage].”
The ruling caught the local clerk’s office off-guard, too. Pat Weber, a deputy county clerk, said she was scheduled to have a day off but was called in to help manage the sudden influx of people. Plus, the marriage license itself had not yet been altered to reflect the change in the law—the places for applicants to sign were still labeled “bride” and “groom.”
Roughly half of the 24 marriage licenses were from couples like Hansen and Hinton who had come from Salt Lake in an effort to escape the crowds. The rest, though, were from couples closer to home.
According to an American Community Profile three-year estimate for 2010-2012, about .4 percent of Tooele County’s population—around 72 households—is comprised of unmarried same-sex partners.
Weber said despite the acutely increased workload, the day was not as stressful as she expected.
“They’ve all been so happy,” she said. “People have been really excited, so it’s been nice for us. It’s not been mundane.”