When Utah residents Belinda Crnich and Charity Winsor decided they wanted to get married, they knew they’d have to go to California – the closest state within driving distance where their union would be legally recognized.
And when the couple, dating for almost two years and living together for almost nine months, sat down to plan their nuptials, they knew they’d had to have their civil ceremony in Independence, Calif. – a town whose name struck a chord with the women who have experienced their share of oppression, discrimination and prejudice.
“It was because of the name” that the couple chose the Inyo County seat for their civil ceremony, Winsor said, which Inyo County Clerk-Recorder Kammi Foote performed Friday afternoon.
Foote issues dozens of marriage licenses every year to couples drawn to Inyo County by the area’s world-famous peaks and deserts, but Crnich, 34, and Winsor, 33, didn’t even have time to take in the sights.
They left their home in Washington, Utah, located just outside of St. George, early Friday, arriving an hour before their ceremony. Crnich and Winsor stayed overnight before driving back to Utah, where Winsor studies social activism and gender issues at the local college and Crnich works as an operating room assistant. Crnich is also a student, and Winsor works on the side as a tutor.
According to Winsor, they spent their savings on the trip to Independence, and still hope to have an actual wedding – with gowns and flowers and music – in the future.
Not likely to be in attendance is Winsor’s family, members of the Church of Latter-day Saints who are “not at all supportive” of her lifestyle since coming out two years ago, she said. “I don’t really care,” Winsor added, “because I love Belinda.”
Winsor is also in the midst of a battle with her ex-husband for custody of their four children (ages 4-11), which is why she and Crnich married sooner than they had planned.
In a Catch-22, Winsor’s ex contested the fact that she was in a “non-committal” relationship; her lawyer suggested she and Crnich go ahead and get married as they had planned, but Utah courts tend to frown on same-sex unions in any form.
“I didn’t want to have a ceremony unless it was going to be legally recognized,” Winsor said. “It’s still a gamble … You can legally be fired in Utah for being LGBT. The judge can say, ‘Well, now you’re out,’ and I can lose custody of my kids. It’s really a gamble. It just kills me that people think I should have to decide between the person I love and my children.”
On Friday and Saturday, at least, Crnich and Winsor were able to feel like any other couple. “I felt more comfortable holding hands with Belinda in Bishop than anywhere in Utah,” Winsor said.
The couple did not know until later that they had gotten married in a county that overwhelmingly supported Prop 8 in the 2008 General Election. Prop 8, which also passed statewide, added an amendment to the state’s constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Prop 8 was placed on the ballot in response to California becoming the second state in the nation, behind Massachusetts, to recognize gay marriage, on June 16, 2008.
Among the supporters and proponents of Prop 8 were the LDS Church and its affiliates – many of them from Utah – which are said to have supplied more than half of Prop 8’s almost $32 million campaign fund.
A district court ruled the proposition unconstitutional, Prop 8 proponents appealed to the Ninth Circuit court and a “stay,” or ban, was placed on same-sex marriages until a final ruling could be made.
That ruling came June 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Prop 8 proponents had no legal standing to challenge the district court decision. The justices sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit with instructions that it be dismissed, which the Ninth Circuit did on Friday, June 28 – marking the second time in California history that same-sex marriage became legal.
Watching the proceedings closely were Winsor and Crnich, Winsor said.
Their Sept. 20 civil ceremony marked the first time Foote has exercised this particular function of her office since being elected by the people in 2010, and since the Board of Supervisors gave her the authority to start charging $25 per ceremony as of Sept. 13.
Inyo County’s first was followed by a second on Friday when another same-sex couple Wayne Myers Hume and Eugene Donovan, of Kentucky, also tied the knot in a particularly emotional, long-awaited ceremony. The couple has been together 26 years.
As far as Foote was concerned, Friday’s ceremony wasn’t a political event, but rather another opportunity to be of service to the public.
“It was very meaningful and I was very honored to be a part of their day,” Foote said.