Lambda Lore

Same-Sex Marriage in Utah

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Thirty-three years ago, the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board did something they do not espouse today: they endorsed marriage between same-sex couples.

Although, to be fair, the board probably was not endorsing same-sex marriage, so much as saying that there was no impediment to such matrimony in Utah.

On Tuesday, Jan. 6, 1975, two women applied for a marriage license in Salt Lake County. The County Clerk’s office turned the pair away and referred them to the Salt Lake County Attorney’s office for a ruling. However, the women did not seek out a decision on whether they could get a license. Instead, they must have contacted instead the _Tribune_, who then contacted the attorney’s office the following day.  According to the newspaper, a spokesman in the Salt Lake County Attorney office said, “Utah statue does not specifically prohibit marriage between members of the same sex.”        

On the basis of this comment, the Salt Lake Tribune executive editor wrote as an editorial on Jan. 8 saying, “Two women who had applied for a marriage license in Salt Lake County probably should have been issued one, according to Utah law.” 

The Tribune did not mention the women’s names, but they may have been Camille Tartagila and “Shirley,” two lesbians who had their marriage publicly acknowledge in the November – December 1975 issue of the Gayzette, edited by Babs DeLay.

This wedding announcement is the first I can find for a same-sex couple in Utah. In it, the pair is just referred to as Camille and Shirley, because while same-sex marriage might not have been illegal in Utah in 1975, sodomy certainly was.

The wedding was held at a gay bar called The Rusty Bell, located at 996 S and Redwood Road. Owners Paul Douglas, Mack Hunt and Jim Beveridge had just opened the tavern the previous July. This location would become more noted for being the home of the premier lesbian bar in the 1980’s, Puss N Boots.

The Reverend Bob Darst, who had just resigned from the Grace Christian Church on Halloween of 1974, agreed to perform the ceremony. Grace Christian Church had splintered from the Metropolitan Community Church of Salt Lake City two years earlier, and had a membership of nearly 50 at the time of the wedding.  The Rusty Bell’s owners as well as Camille and Shirley may have been members or had some kind of association with the church, since The Rusty Bell held fundraisers for the church.

Camille and Shirley were engaged for over a year when they were married on Nov. 20, 1975 in a double ring ceremony. “Marty,” a member of the first Imperial Court of Utah (later the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire) as “Queen of the Realm” was “best man,” and “Hilda” was matron of honor. The Gayzette reported that “Shirley wore a white satin gown of her own design and Camille wore a baby blue pants suit.” After the exchanging of vows, a reception was held “immediately afterwards with an abundance of champagne and wedding cake.”

The article went on to say that the ceremony was not illegal since “No marriage license was required as the state of Utah does not recognize Gay marriages as yet.”  Shirley then stated, “To us the vows are as legal to us as any other marriage ceremony. The license makes no difference to us because we take our marriage vows very seriously.”

While the article also stated that the wedding between Shirley and Camille “was the first wedding to be held at The Rusty Bell since the bar opened,” it may have been the only one. No other weddings have been found to have occurred.

Camille Tartagilia went on to become Prince Royale III Camille of the Imperial Court of Utah with “Marita Gayle” her Princess Royale. I suspect that Marita Gayle was her “best man” at the wedding. An interesting note: Tartagilia was also involved in gay activism and a member of Women Aware, the group that helped organize the boycott of homophobe Anita Bryant at the Utah State Fair.

As time went on The Rusty Bell, which was also the home of the first coronation of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire, closed and reopened at Puss N Boots in 1981.  Today the location is home to K & K African Market “specializing in African and Middle Eastern groceries” and The Outer Rim “an all ages music venue.”  

Mack Hunt would go on to open a series of bars in the 1980’s, most noticeable Back Street—which is now a burnt out hulk at 108 S 500 W. Its last incarnation was Club Ice across from the Gateway. Paul Douglas died in 2005 as I believe Jim Beveridge did.

But some things never change. Some 33 years later, Utah still does not legally recognize same-sex marriage. But we can optimistically add, “as of yet.”

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