"I'm so glad Salt Lake City has become ground zero," said Jeff Key, a former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran who was discharged after coming out as gay.
He predicted that when gay marriage is one day legalized, "We'll say, 'This is the Place.' "
Key was the keynote speaker at the event, organized by grass-roots group Join the Impact at the City-County Building in Washington Square. It was one of 80 rallies planned nationally Saturday to protest same-sex-marriage bans, including Proposition 8.
Rally organizer Elaine Ball said that judging by the numbers who attended, "America is ready for a change."
Ball, a married Salt Lake City woman, added: "It's a community thing for me. These are everybody's neighbors."
Salt Lake City police Lt. Lamar Ewell estimated as many as 2,000 people attended the rally. He said there were heated verbal exchanges between proponents and opponents of gay marriage, but no violence.
"Everybody minded their p's and q's, which we appreciated," Ewell said. About 50 officers patrolled the square.
The day of protest culminated with a vigil on the south lawn of the state Capitol, where by 7 p.m. about 500 supporters stood around lighted candles which formed the word "equality" in 16-foot letters.
Nathan Bohman of Ogden attended the gathering wearing a blue shirt with an equality sign made out of yellow tape. His boyfriend, Andrew Singleton of Taylorsville, wore a matching shirt.
"I want equality. I want to be able to marry who I want to marry, when I want to marry him," Bohman said.
Singleton said he has been encouraged by members of the LDS church who have spoken out against banning gay marriage in recent weeks.
"We might not have our rights now, but they're definitely coming," Singleton said.
Vigil organizer Patrick York called the passage of Proposition 8 a dark hour for America and said the candles are symbolic of a future that includes equal rights for everyone.
At the downtown rally, diversity trainer Dominique Storni told the crowd she was thankful The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had "wakened our sleeping giant. We finally have a civil rights movement equal to that of the '50s and '60s."
As she listed other countries where same-sex marriage is legal, the crowd responded to each by chanting, "The sky did not fall, Chicken Little!"
Storni concluded: "The sky will not fall when marriage for gays is legalized in the United States of America."
Speaker Elan Bartholomew, 17, of Salt Lake City said he became an activist because his mother and her partner cannot legally marry. "I'm still praying it will one day be possible to have a family that our government recognizes," Bartholomew said.
Gayanne O'Neil of Salt Lake City, who held a sign proclaiming "Equality for All," said she attended the rally to support what she characterized as "the civil rights movement of this time. All people have the right to equal protection under the law."
Others carried signs declaring, "Love is a family value," "Queer 4 Christ" and "No more Mr. Nice Gay."
Cory Blackman of Salt Lake City held a rainbow flag. "I'm not hiding anymore," said Blackman, who became openly gay about 7 years ago. "It's finally time to stand up and have equal rights for everybody."
Said rally co-organizer Rhonda Martinez, "The community is coming together. It might not be today or tomorrow, but eventually we'll have equal rights."
Tribune reporter Melinda Rogers contributed to this report.