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Utah group launches campaign to promote same-sex marriage with personal stories

Published: Tuesday, March 18 2014 5:30 p.m. MDT

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, speaks at a press conference to announce a new coalition, Utah Unites for Marriage, which aims to increase support for same-sex marriage in Utah, at the Salt Lake County Government Center, Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Three prominent Utahns will head a new public awareness campaign to promote same-sex marriage in Utah.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, former Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and former TV news anchor Terry Wood are co-chairmen of Utah Unites for Marriage, a coalition of local and national organizations including Equality Utah, Human Rights Campaign, ACLU of Utah, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Utah Unites aims to bring out the human side of the marriage issue, said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah. It's encouraging same-sex couples to tell their personal stories on its website, in newspaper opinion sections, and other forums.

Utahns have an opportunity for honest and respectful discussion while the Amendment 3 cases works its way through the courts, she said.

Wood and Tolman shared personal stories about gay and lesbian family members at a news conference launching the campaign Tuesday at the Salt Lake County South Building, where dozens of same-sex couples rushed to get married during the brief time it was legal in Utah.

Wood said he cried tears of joy the day his gay son got married in California. The couple also has a home in Utah but the state doesn't recognize their marriage.

"This is not about special rights. This is about equal rights," he said. "I want to make sure other parents can cry the same tears of joy."

Attorneys for the state argued a different opinion in its appeal of a December federal court ruling that same-sex marriage is not a fundamental right but a new right. They say U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby erred when he concluded that the 14th Amendment gives people the right to marry someone of the same sex.

Shelby struck down Utah's voter-approved amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, saying it violates the equal protection and due process clauses in the 14th Amendment.

More than a 1,000 same-sex couples married in Utah over a 17-day period in December and January until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay pending the state's appeal.

Tolman said his sister came out to him in 1994, and told him she hoped he would be able to use his talents and brain to help secure her rights. Tolman said it left him confused and conflicted, and he now regrets that he told her he wasn't sure he'd be able to help.

While working as a lawyer for the Senate Judiciary Committee, he said he was faced with the federal Defense of Marriage Act. He said he came to disagree with many of its provisions.

"I thought of my sister. I knew I could never support a law that prevented someone that I loved and cared so deeply about from marrying someone she loved and cared deeply for," he said.

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