Meet Seth Anderson, a social historian, and Michael Ferguson, a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering. You know them as the first gay couple to get married in Utah. Anderson leads us through the couple's journey from their first date to their wedding day to the aftermath of having their marriage invalidated and their hope that the 1,300 same-sex marriages in Utah will be recognized not only by the federal government but also by their home state.
The Advocate: How did you meet?
Seth Anderson: We met on Facebook. I'm from Phoenix and was very happy with my life in downtown Phoenix, and I thought I'd live and die there. Then one day I got a Facebook message from a guy named Michael from Salt Lake City and we started emailing, which led to texting and talking on the phone. We had a million of the same friends because we ran in the same circles, just in different states. Michael came down to visit me at the end of January 2012, then again in February. I went to Salt Lake in March a few times, and it was in March that I told my dad, "I think I'm moving to Salt Lake this year." I left Phoenix in July.
What was your first date?
I picked Michael up at the airport on January 28, 2012, and we drove to a lesbian bar. It was a bar I had never been to since I don't hang out at lesbian bars. But that night my friend Michelle was in town from Portland with her punk rock band. Michelle and I were friends from high school and she was my seminary president. (Michael and I both grew up Mormon. I grew up in the desert Southwest, mostly Arizona, and Michael is from Virginia. Michelle also grew up Mormon.) I hadn't seen Michelle for a while, and she and her wife, who was the bassist in the band, were in town, so I took Michael to a punk rock show at a lesbian bar for our first date.
When was the first time you said "I love you?"
Michael said it first one time in Arizona. 2011 had been a rough year for me, and I was very cautious about giving my heart away too fast. I was a little more reserved in expressing my feelings, but I knew I was falling in love after the first weekend when he came to visit me in Arizona.
Were you already planning to get married when Utah initially reversed the marriage ban?
Yes. Michael and I had been engaged since July 2013. We were working on a tea farm in Japan when he proposed to me.
Where had you planned to marry?
We planned to get the license in California, but we planned to have the big party and a ring ceremony in Salt Lake.
Did you know you were going to be the first gay couple to wed in Utah?
No. Our friend who is an attorney had been following the case. When he learned that Judge Shelby had struck down Amendment 3 (Utah's anti–marriage equality constitutional amendment), we rushed to the county clerk's office because we didn't know how much time we had before the state put a stay on the ruling. So the minute we heard on the afternoon of December 20, we literally dropped everything and sped over to the clerk's office.
How did your families react to the news of your marriage?
My family was thrilled! I have deep Utah Mormon roots dating from the 1860s. My ancestors were Mormon converts from Scandinavia. My dad texted and said, "Did I just see you on the news?" and my sisters called me in tears and were thrilled. Michael's cousin Blake was one of the witnesses on the 20th.
Were you worried that the decision would be reversed?
On December 20, we were worried about a stay. When we got to the county clerk's office, they hadn't heard the news and we explained to them what was happening. They thought we were there for civil disobedience, which I'm all for, but the people working were moved to tears when they realized what had happened. We had only been there for about three minutes when the Salt Lake district attorney, Sim Gill, came in. I thought we were too late and he was there to tell them to refuse to issue us a license. But he wasn't. He told us to "hang tight for about 20 minutes" while he "got everyone up to speed." Twenty minutes later, one of the clerks came back and said, "We have been told we can proceed." The room erupted in cheers; the woman issuing the license remained on the verge of tears for the rest of the time we saw her.
Now that the stay has been issued, what are your next steps going to be?
The state eventually got the stay they wanted (after four requests), and honestly, we expected that. A stay is part of the process. I was more surprised that Utah had 17 days of legal marriage equality before the state got their way. The day after the stay is when Governor Herbert said that the state would not recognize the marriages, but he made sure to say the state was not nullifying them. But I can't tell the difference between not recognized and nullified. That day shook us up, but I think in the long run helps the case for national marriage equality. Utah demonstrated clear animus to LGBT people and denied legally married couples due process. The state of Utah proved why this issue cannot be left up to states to decide because states cannot be trusted to treat fairly and lawfully their gay and lesbian citizens. The day after that the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, said that the marriages performed in Utah would be recognized federally. What Utah fails to understand is federal law trumps state law. Michael and I as well as the 1,300 other couples who married in Utah are still married, even if Governor Herbert and the religious right of Utah don't like it. They are about to spend a minimum of $2 million to go to court, in which they will lose and Michael and I will remain married.
Are you planning to fight the governor’s decision not to recognize your union?
The ACLU of Utah has gotten involved, and we have an attorney who represents us. As of now we are not personally involved in any lawsuits against the state.
Are you involved politically in any pro-LGBT organizations?
I've been an LGBT activist since 2008. I frequently attend rallies, write letters, speak out. I like Equality Utah and know they have done good work. We'd like to support Restore Our Humanity more since they were the nonprofit that funded the case to challenge Amendment 3. Restore Our Humanity is the real hero in this story, and they deserve to be supported first and foremost. Michael and I own a tea company called the Queens' Tea (soon to be called the Queens' Leaf — long story), and from day one we have been dedicated to helping homeless youth in Salt Lake. We are in the process of launching the nonprofit side of the business called the DigniTEA Foundation. Proceeds from certain tea blends benefit the Volunteers of America's Homeless Youth Resource Center in Salt Lake. Forty percent of homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT, and even though our business is small, we are laying the foundation to create a sustainable engine to financially support the construction of a youth homeless shelter in Salt Lake.
How did your company start up?
Michael and I started exploring tea when we first met. In June 2012, Michael and I went to China to attend a conference for his graduate program — it was the Human Brain Mapping conference. The conference was in Beijing, and while we were there we took classes on tea and got a whole education about tea history, tea farming, tea processing, etc. At the time my sister was living in Tokyo, so we made a little trip to Japan to see her, where we were exposed to an entirely different tea culture. We knew tea was going to be a part of our future and jumped in once we got back to Salt Lake. We formed the Queens' Tea in September 2012, sold tea at our first farmers' market in November 2012, then officially debuted at Sundance in January 2013. We create many of our own blends and work directly with tea farmers to import tea leaves.
In the summer of 2012 and the fall of 2012 we went back to Japan to work on a tea farm with our Japanese tea farming family. It was on that trip to Japan in 2012 that Michael proposed to me. It's also the trip where we harvested and processed Japanese black tea. Right now we do most of our sales online and provide tea to restaurants and coffee shops in Utah. We also teach classes. Things are going extremely well. Our friend had a fairy-themed tea party for her daughter's 7th birthday at the tea shop today, and we are returning to Sundance. We say that tea is the original social media. When we started the business tea was a really great intersection of my interest in history and Michael's interest in science. We love tea, we drink a lot of tea, and are happy to talk tea all day, every day, with anyone who will listen.
Where are you two going to school and what are you studying?
We are both graduate students at the University of Utah. I'm a social historian and working on my master's in history. I study the American West, history of sexuality, LGBT history, Mormon history and where that all comes together. Michael is finishing his Ph.D. in bioengineering and studies the social neuroscience of religion.