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On December 20th, 2013 I was working from a local coffee shop minding my own business. Suddenly, social media began blowing up with unexpected news. The US District Court had news that shocked the state of Utah.
“The states current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason,” wrote U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby in the 53-page decision. “Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”
My journey in the LGBT community started about a year and a half ago. My friend David Daniels, who is an amazing photographer, referred me as a photographer to shoot a local gay club for a themed party night. I was shooting candids and portraits at their events.
From that moment on, my life was changed. LGBT rights have always been an issue in my heart. I was now shooting pictures for Equality events, gay club, couples and more. In college, the very first film I made was about two teenage boys on their first date. I wasn’t trying to be controversial or make a statement. I was just making a film that showed what every person regardless of who they are experiences the same thing.
I’m not the best photographer and of course want to continue getting better but while I journey down the road of improving what we all love to do, photography to me means healing and love. I was able to show up with my camera and being the one to capture those moments. It’s an honor and privilege that I will always cherish.
What it Meant to Me and My Photography
Fast forward to Monday, December 23rd. Lines to Salt Lake County Offices had started to begin overnight. Hundreds and hundreds of couples were rushing to the County office building to get what they have been waiting a long time for. A Marriage License.
They didn’t know if or when a possible STAY was going to happen as the Governors office was filling emergency stays within the court system. This would block the changes and create additional legal battles.
When I walked into the building I took a picture with my cell phone to show how the line to the office to get a marriage license had wrapped around two floors of the building.
It took my breath away to see such excitement. Then I went to my job. Marriages were being performed in every nook, corner, hallway and open space that was available. Every time a new marriage was done, cheers of celebration would echo through the building.
Families in support of these couples had also dropped everything to be here in support of loved ones finally getting the all important piece of paper. Most couples I spoke with had been together for years (some even 30) years by the time this day came around.
I knew I needed to help document this important moment. It was time for me to use my photography to preserve memories. Sometimes you don’t need to be the best photographer to capture moments that as one couple emailed me, “Thank you so much. I was elated when I found out pictures had been taken. I will cherish them always.”
What I Did
I decided that I should help. The power of photography is that it preserves memories. The couples getting married had little time to plan their weddings and line up a photographer. I decided that I should step in and put my personal beliefs into action.
Here are just a few of the officiators that provided their services to couples. On the Left is Prof. Cliff Rosky who has been the go-to resource for media on what the laws have meant and how it affects the state of Utah.
The Impact of the Shoot
At times, it was difficult to hold my camera steady under the flood of tears. I couldn’t keep up with the marriages. I would take pictures and in the same spot turn around and take more pictures of another ceremony.
Many ceremonies were not even being documented with cell phone snapshots. There was such a rush to get things done. While I didn’t expect it, it turns out that my camera was the only reason they have pictures from their important day. I knew I wanted to give them this gift.
I learned that they didn’t need a big wedding, they didn’t need an audience. All they wanted was a piece of paper from the state they lived in to show them they were equal under the statues and laws they most all of us take for granted. That taxes, death, medical situations would be fair. That the love they shared with each other can finally be equal.
Love is amazing and when you have love that we has humans posses, it’s a positive energy that creates happiness that we all long for.
You can see all the pictures I took from December 23rd, 2013 here: http://pamelaannberry.smugmug.com/Weddings/UtahDecember23SameSexWeddings
The state of Utah has decided with the recent Stay that was granted by the federal courts, that all same-sex marriages that have been performed will not be recognized in the state of Utah pending further review from the federal courts later this year. However, on May 19th, a Federal Judge ruled that Utah must recognize all same-sex marriages performed in the state during that 17-day window when such marriages were legal. The uncertainty of future marriages to happen is still waiting on rulings from the Federal courts sometime this year.
I wish that the government officials could have been to the court house that day and experienced what those marriages meant. I hope my photos can preserve that day and have meaning going forward. I will continue to grow as a photographer and support in any way I can the fight for equal rights.