Utah has been at the forefront of the marriage equality battle since Judge Shelby became the first federal judge to overturn a state gay marriage ban after the Defense of Marriage Act struck down in 2013. And now, as we await good news from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on the case, there will naturally be a float to celebrate these historic advancements of LGBTQ rights at this year’s Utah Pride Festival parade!
Jolene Mewing, who came up with the idea for the float, says, “The state of Utah became number 18 out of 50 states [to legalize gay marriage] with Judge Shelby. Nobody would have assumed that we would be number 18! We definitely have to celebrate that.” She says she thought, “There’s no way we can’t do something for these couples,” and pitched her idea to the festival’s steering committee, who quickly agreed.
For the first time, the Utah Pride Center has two floats; Mewing is project manager of both. The Marriage Celebration Float will carry the famous Home Depot couple, whose flash-mob engagement video went viral; and the first same-sex couple to be married in Utah. All of the other couples who married during this time have been invited to ride or walk next to the float dressed in white; the number of participants on this float alone could be well into the hundreds.
Mewing and her wife, Colleen, married on Dec. 23, 2013, are also among the first same-sex couples to marry in Utah during the 17-day interval between the Shelby ruling and the stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the past, the grand marshal traveled the parade route by car, but it was felt that a salute of more grandeur would more appropriately honor this year’s award recipients. The Grand Marshal float will hold the plaintiff couples and their attorneys who filed the winning case against the state that led to Amendment 3 being overturned. Mewing says they almost didn’t have enough funds from what the Pride Center was able to provide, but thanks to Equality Utah and Marriage Equality USA getting on board in support, they were able to make it happen. “I think it’s going to be one of the most beautiful things Utah Pride parade has ever seen,” she says.
Mewing also says that she’s amazed by how easy it was to find people to help. Chris Johnson was recruited for his carpentry skills and single-handedly built the Grand Marshal float. “Chris Johnson’s dedication to this project has been crazy beautiful,” Mewing says.” “He has dedicated not only his time and efforts, but anything we underestimated financially he has covered out of his own pocket.”
Johnson, in turn, says they were able to pull off the two floats, one of which is 48 feet long and around 15,000 pounds, largely due to UPC Board Chair John Netto, who has gone “over the top” to help out by providing the warehouse space and all the equipment.
Johnson and his partner, David Tuma, both retired Air Force officers who have been together for 19 years, were married in December after the Shelby ruling. They first got married in California just before the vote on Prop 8 in 2008, but, being unsure if Utah would recognize it, thought they ought to cover their bases and get married in their own state. This time it felt different, he says, because “we got to get married in our own home, with friends and family, with my daughter officiating. It was a wonderful thing. It felt like we have finally arrived. The state has put a damper on that, but the momentum and inertia is there. It’s just a matter of time, and even Orrin Hatch agrees.”
Monique Lanier, designer of the float, says, “I wanted to give the couples the most beautiful thing I could come up with using the budget and materials we had, a most beautiful space that is elegant and classy to honor their marriages. I was up all night long in my head designing. And the grand marshal float I wanted to be a little more glitzy and make a huge statement, so it’s all gold.
“My hope is that everyone who sees it and participates knows how much they are loved and respected, and to know how special and important they are,” she continues. “I hope that’s what the float conveys to people.”
Mewing says she hopes to elicit some of the same intense feelings of happiness and joy that were felt the day Amendment 3 was overturned in Utah and couples flooded the Salt Lake County Office Building to be married. “If we could bottle up the energy that was in the room that day,” she says, “we could sell it for a million bucks.”