SANDY — The event at South Towne Expo Center was billed as a celebration, but it was punctuated by somber moments as participants and presenters reaffirmed their support of traditional marriage while the sun set on a day featuring the Supreme Court's two key marriage decisions Wednesday.
The Celebration of Marriage event, sponsored by Utah's Friends of Marriage organization, had been scheduled for weeks; it fell on the same day as the court's decisions.
Nearly every seat was filled and the room buzzed with energy, but it became quiet as Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Utah, said the group felt "sorrow in our hearts" in his invocation.
Reid prayed that the group would "be vigilant, protect traditional marriage and what it represents for the state of Utah."
Moments earlier, about a dozen protesters had gathered outside the door with bright smiles and bright signs, watching the crowds enter and celebrating the high court's decision regarding federal benefits for same-sex couples who are legally married and the fate of California's Proposition 8.
A crowd of hundreds rallied earlier this year, protesting a similar event at the State Capitol as the Supreme Court began its deliberations.
"There are a lot of people off celebrating right now," said Steve Holbrook of Orem as he stood with the comparatively tiny group. "But there's always more work to be done, when it comes to these social causes."
Inside, Richard Eyre, a best-selling author and Deseret News columnist, took his place as Master of Ceremonies and began to shift the mood.
Eyre said he was asked as he visited with guests, "Why are we calling this a celebration of marriage tonight? We should be having a wake."
"I think we're here with the right premise," Eyre responded, urging the group "it's time we went on offense" and rallied around traditional marriage.
Throughout the night, Eyre and other presenters addressed what they called additional obstacles for the traditional family, including divorce, cohabitation without marriage and those who choose to not marry.
Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, drew cheers from the group as he emphasized Utah's Constitutional Amendment that defines marriage in the state as being a union between man and woman.
"The joyous news is that Utah stands unaffected," Christensen said.
The mood lifted higher as 13-year-old Amelia Summerhays returned to the stage, recalling her experience speaking at a similar event at the State Capitol in March and the subsequent social media firestorm that followed.
"Most of what we heard on the steps of the Supreme Court today was about adults' rights. Children's rights were forgotten," Amelia said in her address titled "Why kids need a mom and a dad."
Jenet Erickson, who teaches in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, told the audience that it is essential going forward for families to "heal a shattered marriage culture by restoring what marriage means."
David Barton, Founder and President of the pro-family group WallBuilders and favorite guest on the Glenn Beck show, closed the night with a detailed tribute to the Christian foundations in the United States' beginnings and long-standing Constitution.
"America has paid a great price for weakening its marriage laws," Barton said. He went on to present a series of statistics he called an effect on behavior stemming from a decline in traditional homes.
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