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Spencer Stout and Dustin Reeser have tried to keep their wedding out of the political fray of same-sex marriage in Utah.
Arguably the state's most visible gay couple, Stout and Reeser have been held up as a symbolic bridge in the gay marriage debate since their families mostly LDS, with some ideologically opposed to gay marriage were seen dancing through the lumber aisle of Salt Lake City's Home Depot in their sons' now-viral flash mob engagement video in September. The video, which has racked up 11.2 million views on Youtube, was hailed as a vision of family support for gay couples.
But as the couple pick out music and flower girl dresses for their February wedding celebration, they are trying to keep the should-be-fun process from getting scorched while legal wrangling over gay marriage makes the issue hotter and hotter.
"The political discussion has created a supercharged atmosphere for this," Stout said. "All over the place, my family and I are exposed to this. It creates this atmosphere of conflict."
On the side that supports same-sex marriage, moods have shifted from joy to anger to resolve, especially since the state announced two weeks ago it is rejecting more than 1,300 marriages that occurred lawfully before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay halting same-sex marriages during the appeal process. The stay was discouraging, Stout said. But the state's action feels like a totally unnecessary slap in the face.
"I've been watching people very close to us, that have been together for years or decades, they have kids together, experiencing this moment of happiness and elation that they were finally FINALLY validated and recognized," Stout said. "Two weeks later, just having it all taken away from every single one of them? Taking happiness away? That's just mean."
Stout said he turns to Reeser to refocus on the happy days to come: a civil wedding in California later this month, with a ceremony and reception Feb. 1 in Salt Lake City.
"[Reeser] keeps me grounded," Stout said. "I can get pretty agitated. It does affect us on a personal level. But he helps me take a step back. I look at my family, and because I love my family so much, I have to respect [gay-marriage opponents] have a process, too."
In trying to relate to the perspective of those opponents, Reeser said he draws connections to the journey he and his family faced years ago, when he first came out.
"It was really hard for all of us to figure it out," Reeser said.
His younger sister, Shana Reeser Elmer, said the most painful step was reconciling Reeser's sexual identity with her belief of an afterlife in the LDS faith.
"As far as I knew, being gay was wrong, and he couldn't go to heaven," said Elmer, who lives in Spanish Fork with her husband and children. "I couldn't imagine heaven without Dustin. We were so close growing up. It was my biggest struggle: What is heaven if my brother isn't there with me?"
She said she studied and prayed on it.
"One day it just hit me that I don't know that Dustin's not going to heaven," she said. "I don't know these things. Dustin is such an amazing person: He's smart and good-hearted, and he's still all those things I knew him to be. If I believe in an afterlife, he's going to be there. When I figured that out, it just became simple to me."
Elmer said after she felt peace with her brother's sexual orientation, she began to see how much happier he was after he had come out.
"If anything, he was more open because he didn't have this internal struggle anymore that he was dealing with that we didn't know about," she said.
She said she hadn't thought about gay marriage when Reeser came out, but she now favors legal marriage for same-sex couples. When Stout asked her to be part of his marriage proposal to Reeser, there was no question. Elmer can be seen in the Home Depot video, dancing in a blue T-shirt and flip-flops while her daughter turns cartwheels in a tutu and other relatives parade into the aisle and strike poses. Both sets of parents wave and watch from a stack of lattice-top fencing while Stout arrives in a suit.
"When I saw them and I realized what [Stout] was doing, it occurred to me: My family was there," Reeser recalled. "It's not that they necessarily believe in gay marriage. It was a process that came to a place where they have my back, and they still love us both so much."
Reeser and Stout both hope the rest of the state can find a way to separate religious beliefs about marriage from how they see the people who want to get married and the 1,300 couples who two weeks ago were "unmarried" by the governor, as Stout put it.
"What I care about is people treating each other with respect and love," Reeser said.
Meanwhile, the couple is preparing a wedding that will bring together their friends in the gay community and their LDS friends and family.
"It's an interesting mix of people," Stout said. "After all the stress in the last couple weeks, we just want it to be fun."
Amidst all the attention from the proposal video, the celebration has taken on a life of its own.
"We can't call it small and quaint anymore," Reeser said. "I think we might have planned something more casual to begin with, but now all these people want to see it."
Groomsmen and maids of honor have been enlisted, including Elmer, and her children will be flower girl and ring bearer. Colors will be neutral: white and taupe. Reeser, an interior designer, has "taken charge of aesthetics," Stout said. Layers Cake in Bountiful is preparing a three-tier cake of offset squares in champagne velvet and carrot cake "architectural and masculine," Stout said.
The couple also is expecting a special guest: pop singer Betty Who, whose "Somebody Loves You" provided the soundtrack to the Home Depot proposal, has offered to sing an acoustic rendition of the song at the ring ceremony.
"It's been so awesome," Stout said.
Stout and Reeser are considering making some video to share the day with the many online friends who have taken an interest in their marriage since the proposal.
"I don't want to confirm or deny that," Stout said coyly. "Check our Youtube channel."