SALT LAKE CITY — Even as the U.S. Supreme Court opened debate around marriage laws Tuesday, two different opinions converged in Utah's Capitol rotunda.
Supporters of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act gathered for a night of music and speeches celebrating traditional marriage and families. But as the program got under way, they found themselves surrounded on all sides by banners and flags crying out in support of gay marriage.
When seats for the concert filled up, Salt Lake residents Dominic and Jeana Jones stood on the sidelines, holding their two children in their arms. They came, they said, as an example of what they believe marriage and family should look like.
"We're trying to not redefine marriage," Jeana Jones said. "It's not just a valentine between two people. We respect people's right to love whoever they love, but marriage is something more."
On the other side of the rotunda, Mark Hammond and his wife Kameron, of Draper, and their three daughters shared a different message, holding a series of signs that said: "Traditional family, not worried."
"We just believe that people should be able to live their lives the way that they want to. It's not hurting us," Mark Hammond said. "We raise our kids to be accepting of other people."
"We teach our children to love everyone," she said.
Their youngest, 11-year-old Soleil, was all smiles as she paused to take a picture for same-sex couples posing on the rotunda steps. "People should be able to marry whoever they want," she said.
Reverend Greg Johnson, who founded the ministry Standing Together in Utah, thanked participants on both sides as he asked for respect in the coming days while the country awaits the Supreme Court's decision.
"I know it can work," he said.
Johnson went on to reiterate that his dedication to Bible learning has directed his stance that marriage is meant for a man and a woman, declaring, "When we have healthy, happy families, we have healthy, happy communities."
Tuesday's event was emceed by high-profile Utahns Alan and Suzanne Osmond, who took a moment to express gratitude for their large families and their own eight sons, and included prominent speakers Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, and Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem.
Despite the competing voices, Tuesday's rallies were mostly free of disruptions. Members of both groups bowed their heads during an invocation, and protesters raised a deafening cheer as they followed along with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.
"We've had a turnout that was way beyond belief," said Rose Mary Murray, a representative from United Families Utah who provided literature from the group throughout the evening. "I think that there has been a good feeling here, obviously a lot of energy, and overall a lot of respect."
One of the evening's youngest presenters got the the loudest cheer from supporters of traditional marriage. Amelia Summerhays, the 13-year-old daughter of the Celebration of Marriage event chairwoman Mary Summerhays, drew a standing ovation as she spoke of the "inalienable rights of children" to be raised by a mother and a father.
"It takes a mom and a dad to create a child, so it takes a mom and a dad to raise one," she said.
Jenet Erickson, assistant professor in the School of Family Life at BYU, also focused her remarks on children as she defended traditional marriage. Any debate about marriage that focuses on adult concerns distracts from children's needs, she said.
"You don't have to be against anyone to be for marriage," she argued. "It's not discrimination to ensure that, as much as possible, children are raised by a married mother and father."
Justine Ellett, of Salt Lake City, who stood at the back of the Capitol as she rallied for same-sex marriage, was stunned at the size of the crowd. Tuesday was the first time Ellett publicly supported gay marriage.28 comments on this story
"I wanted to support the people who want this also," she said. "It's kind of a lot to take in. … It feels like the right time, and it feels like everyone should be here with a little voice or a loud voice, letting everyone know that it's OK."
A bride and groom from Eagle Mountain came to the state Capitol for a photo session Tuesday evening, not realizing they were walking into a marriage debate. Seeing the crowds, Jordan and Amanda, who declined to give their last names, said they couldn't resist the chance to walk down the rotunda steps in their wedding attire and share a kiss in honor of traditional marriage.
The couple is set to be married on Thursday.