LEHI — The push for gay marriage, across the state and the nation, is a push to "undermine traditional marriage" and attack the tenets of liberty, Sutherland Institute leaders told a crowd of hundreds Thursday night.

"The proper definition of family is critical to our liberty," Sutherland President Paul T. Mero said, as the conservative think tank unveiled its "Sacred Ground Initiative" at Thanksgiving Point. "Responsible citizens have a choice to make. Either we will discern law and policy using reason and truth or we will decide our future based on emotion and irrationality."

As Mero and others spoke against the Common Ground Initiative, a series of bills aimed at expanding rights for gay, lesbian and transgender Utahns, a few dozen protesters waived signs outside the event and called for equal rights.

Access to the event was limited when Sutherland officials discovered an Internet movement calling for gay rights activists to "infiltrate" it, spokesman Jeff Reynolds said. Sutherland officials made guests RSVP and cross-referenced that list with those names associated with the Facebook group.

Eric Ethington and Elaine Ball, two gay rights activists who were in attendance, said they were bothered by statements that homosexuality was a choice and an "addiction."

"I just feel so sad," Ball said.

Inside the Thanksgiving Point barn, attendees applauded at the mention of California's gay marriage ban. Speakers received standing ovations.

Former Utah Rep. LaVar Christensen said the legislative battle on Capitol Hill is not about tolerance or equality, hate or discrimination.

"There is nothing arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory about strictly adhering to the time-honored principles that preclude official public sanction of same-sex unions," he said. "Marriage is a word for the way we join men and women together to make the future happen."

"Defending marriage and family is an act of love for our children and our children's children," added Lauralyn B. Swim, the wife of Sutherland founder Gaylord Swim.

141 comments on this story

The Common Ground Initiative would be a step down the "slippery slope" toward overturning the state's marriage amendment, Christensen said.

"It would be groundbreaking and lead to what we just witnessed in California," he said of the heated fight over the state's marriage amendment.

Equality Utah officials have said the initiative, which among other things would provide fair housing and workplace rights for gay, lesbian and transgender Utahns, has nothing to do with marriage — claims Christensen called "hollow and misleading assurances."

E-MAIL: afalk@desnews.com