SALT LAKE CITY — More than 1,000 opponents of Amendment 3 rallied in the state Capitol rotunda Friday, the same day the Obama administration announced the federal government would recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Utah.
"What a momentous time this is for us today because today's decision by (U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder recognizes that the protections in the Constitution are guaranteed to all Utahns," gay rights activist Troy Williams told the crowd.
Gov. Gary Herbert decided Wednesday, based on an opinion issued by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, to put state recognition of Utah's same-sex newlyweds "on hold" after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby striking down Amendment 3.
"It's very clear we cannot recognize those marriages under the plain language of Amendment 3," Reyes said when he released the opinion Wednesday.
About 1,300 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples around the state between Shelby's ruling on the 2004 voter-approved amendment to the Utah Constitution that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman and Monday's stay.
Holder said despite the doubt cast on Utah's same-sex marriages, they "will be recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages."
His announcement, released by the Department of Justice, was criticized by both the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage in Washington, D.C.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the federal government's recognition "shows contempt for the states, the federal courts and Congress" and adds to the administrative chaos.
National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown called it "outrageous that the Justice Department would move so brazenly and publicly to undermine Utah's standing constitutional marriage provision regulating marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
Herbert said in a statement that Holder's announcement "comes as no surprise" and that state agencies have been directed to comply with federal law when providing federal services.
The governor has said he believes same-sex marriage "is a state-rights issue" and has pledged "to work to defend the position of the people of Utah and our state constitution."
Participants in Friday's rally called on Herbert to let Shelby's ruling stand and handed over petitions signed by more than 50,000 people that labeled Utah's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and decried the cost of the appeal.
Derek Kitchen, one of the plaintiffs in the case, told supporters who filled the rotunda as well as the staircases and upper floors of the Capitol that "the will of the people has changed" since Amendment 3 passed.
"Do you want to go down swinging in a losing battle?" Kitchen asked of the governor. "As a fan of small government, surely you understand our frustration with a state meddling in our lives."
Kitchen's partner, Moudi Sbeity, said in a statement directed at that governor: "Just like you, Gary, I love my family. I ask you to look at me and all of us here and tell us that our families are less deserving than yours."
Twelve-year-old Riley Hackford-Peer described his two mothers finally being able to marry after being together 17 years, saying before that he had sometimes feared one of them being taken away from him.
"Some people do not believe I am from a loving family because my moms are gay. They are wrong," the sixth-grader said to cheers. "I love my moms, and my moms love me and my brother unconditionally."
Riley said after the rally that if recognition is taken away from same-sex couples, it affects their children. "You're also taking away from us," he said. "We're in the battle, too, although we're not in the front row."
One of his mothers, Kim Hackford-Peer, said it was Riley and his 7-year-old brother, Casey, who motivated her and her partner Ruth to tie the knot the day of Shelby's decision.
"It meant so much to them," she said of their ceremony at the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office.
Jerry Conder, a Salt Lake attorney, said the rally was only the second he'd ever attended. "The first one was in 1971 in San Diego to protest the Vietnam War," he said.
Conder said he felt embarrassed by the state's reaction to the overturning of Amendment 3, especially after a gay couple got married at his home during a Christmas Eve reception.
"It just felt right for me to come," said Conder, who carried a "I Do Support Marriage Equality" sign. "I don't consider myself a straight person, I consider myself a person. We all need to stand up for equal rights."