Thousands of people packed a Salt Lake City park and then paraded through downtown streets Friday night for a vocal but peaceful protest of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' participation in California's new ban on gay marriage.
An estimated 3,500 members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gathered at City Creek Park to speak out against the LDS Church for encouraging its members to support Proposition 8.
"We're here because we've been hurt, some of us very personally," said Jacob Whipple, who organized the protest as a show of solidarity with Californians who have been staging such events since Election Day.
"I would like to thank the (LDS Church) for what they've done," Whipple said. "They have helped awaken this spirit in the gay community. For way too long, we've been complacent in our own rights. ... Now we have this momentum."
A constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman was supported by 52 percent of California voters Tuesday, overriding the California Supreme Court ruling last May that briefly allowed gay marriage.
For Whipple, a gay man, that means he likely won't be able to wed his fiance in April as planned.
"We need to make it known that we are hurt," he said. "We need to make it known that we will stand up for our rights."
Like most who spoke at the hourlong rally, Whipple encouraged those upset with the church's actions to set aside their anger and seek equality for all Utahns by educating LDS leaders about the LGBT community.
"Let's do this the right way," he said. "Let's do this with respect."
Whipple shared the makeshift stage on the northeast corner of the park with the three openly gay members of the Utah Legislature Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake; Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake; and Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake.
"To be surrounded by this amount of courage and this amount of determination, there is no way we will see these laws stay in place for very long," Biskupski said.
Former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, a longtime human-rights activist, also took the stage, welcomed by a chants of "Rocky! Rocky!"
"Let us all call for greater love, better understanding, dignity and respect toward all regardless of race, regardless of faith or lack of faith, and regardless of sexual orientation," Anderson said.
Some Proposition 8 opponents are blaming its passage on the LDS Church for its strong support of the gay-marriage ban. Though the church did not contribute directly to the campaign, its members were encouraged to support the amendment through fundraising and grass-roots organizing.
The LDS Church issued a statement just hours before the protest, calling it "disturbing" that the church "is being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election."
"While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process," the church statement reads.
Bishop William Weigand, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, Calif., and former bishop of the Dioceses of Salt Lake City, lent his support to the LDS Church in a statement Friday.
"Catholics stand in solidarity with our Mormon brothers and sisters in support of traditional marriage the union of one man and one woman that has been the major building block of Western civilization for millennia," Weigand said in the statement.
"The ProtectMarriage coalition, which led the successful campaign to pass Proposition 8, was an historic alliance of people from every faith and ethnicity. LDS were included but so were Catholics and Jews, Evangelicals and Orthodox, African-Americans and Latinos, Asians and Anglos."
Weigand called the "bigoted attacks on Mormons" for their part in the coalition "shameful."
"I call upon the supporters of same-sex marriage to live by their own words and to refrain from discrimination against religion and to exercise tolerance for those who differ from them," he said. "I call upon them to accept the will of the people of California in the passage of Proposition 8."
Thousands of gay-marriage supporters have demonstrated outside the LDS Church's Los Angeles Temple since the election. The Salt Lake Temple was visible from the site of Friday's rally, which included a march around the two city blocks surrounding Temple Square and the Church Office Building. Protesters marched around the blocks twice, gathering on street corners and open areas to continue the rally until about 8:30 p.m.
"The LDS Church sees this as a moral issue," said David LeCheminant, holding a sign reading, "Proposition h8." "I want (church leaders) to ask themselves, 'How is it moral to strip hundreds of people dozens of my friends of their marriages, their partnerships and their families?'"
A small group of LDS Church members gathered a block away from the park to support California voters' approval of Proposition 8. The friction between the two groups was limited to back-and-forth chants about their differing political views.
Elsewhere, five church members stood outside the north entrance to Temple Square singing hymns and peacefully discussing their beliefs with marching protesters.
"With the proposition, I don't see it doing anything to anyone's rights," said Felicia Kelly, a Salt Lake resident. "Their being here is mean."
Salt Lake City resident Chandelle Bates attended the protest with her husband and two young children to voice her opposition to Proposition 8, calling it "disgusting" the way it was "pushed through" by the LDS Church.
"It's important that so-called traditional families support everyone's rights," Bates said. "I try to think (how I would feel) if someone had restricted my marriage because I was Mormon and married in the temple." -->
Bates said she felt it was important to bring her two toddlers with her to the rally, "so even at their young age, they could understand what compassion is."
Salt Lake City police spokeswoman Lara Jones said the protest was peaceful.
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"They've got their signs, slogans and opinions but they're exercising their First Amendment rights peacefully," Jones said.
Police appeared well-prepared for the rally and were able to keep traffic flowing and protesters from crossing onto the church's private property. Only one arrest was reported, and it was not one of the demonstrators. A motorist frustrated with traffic caused by the rally tried to make an illegal U-turn and nearly struck a police officer, Jones said.
Contributing: Jens Dana
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