SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – A little more than a month after a surprising federal court ruling overturned this conservative state’s ban on gay marriage, the battle over the issue hit the Capitol building Tuesday as hundreds of opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage held twin rallies.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said Utah is the epicenter of the fight over marriage and how it’s decided.
“Activist judges now feel no qualms in simply putting forward their opinion as the law,” Brown said. “The people of Utah voted on this.”
The National Organization for Marriage, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that opposes same-sex marriage, held its rally inside the Capitol building with a local group called Celebration of Marriage. About 500 people attended.
A few hours earlier, about 300 supporters of same-sex marriage rallied at the Capitol steps, carrying rainbow flags and homemade signs with messages such as “Love is Legal” and “It’s okay to be gay.”
Speakers at the rally called for the recognition of same-sex marriages and attacked arguments made by their opponents that children do best with a mother and a father.
More importantly, children need a safe and supportive home, said Mark Lawrence, director of the group Restore Our Humanity, which is backing the legal challenge to the gay marriage ban.
“Marriage is the foundation of society. Yes, we agree with that,” he said. “And that foundation will only be strengthened when it’s built upon equality, decency and humanity.”
Lawrence also addressed arguments made by opponents that recognizing gay rights is carving out special rights for one particular group.
“We are not asking for special rights,” he said. “We are demanding human rights.”
The opposing gatherings are the latest square-off over gay marriage, an issue that took Utah by surprise over the past month. More than 1,000 gay couples rushed to wed when a federal judge overturned Utah’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in late December. Voters approved the amendment in 2004.
Same-sex marriages continued in Utah until early January, when the U.S. Supreme Court granted Utah’s request for an emergency halt to the weddings.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert then ordered state agencies to freeze recognition of the marriages.
The state has also appealed the federal judge’s ruling to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to decide in a few months.
While the case will play out in federal court this spring, it could eventually wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bob Henline, the assistant editor at QSalt Lake Magazine, a gay and lesbian magazine in Utah, decried the spending of taxpayer dollars to defend the same-sex marriage ban.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the state is paying $300,000 on outside attorneys to help with the appeal.
Henline, one of the organizers of the rally supporting same-sex marriage, also called on lawmakers to approve a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation.
Last year, the proposal made it further than ever in the legislative process, but it ultimately failed.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, the Republican from St. George sponsoring the measure, has said he’ll keep trying until it passes.
The bill is shaping up to be even more closely watched in the wake of the gay-marriage decision, with conservative groups running television advertisements opposing Urquhart’s proposal.
Henline said if lawmakers don’t consider the bill, it’s “nothing short of moral and legislative cowardice.”
Earlier Tuesday, Henline told The Associated Press it appeared to be coincidental that both rallies were scheduled for the same night.
Some attendees from his event may stick around to see what opponents of same-sex marriage say, but they plan to be respectful, Henline said.
“They have their agenda. We have our agenda,” he said. “We don’t need to butt heads.”
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