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(Keith Johnson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Lawrence outside the Frank E. Moss U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City, January 7, 2014.
Meet the man behind Utah’s same-sex marriage lawsuit

Lawrence says the stay is an opportunity “to regroup and get some fundraising done.”

First Published Jan 09 2014 05:29 pm • Last Updated Jan 10 2014 07:32 am

When Mark Lawrence heard that a federal judge in California had overturned that state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, he had an immediate reaction: This could happen here.

Of course, most people thought Lawrence was nuts.

At a glance

Another kind of ‘legal limbo’

Utah counties that didn’t finish processing same-sex marriage licenses for couples who turned in their paperwork before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a halt to the nuptials Monday should finish and mail out the certificates, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said Thursday.

In Weber County, about 35 couples had turned in their paperwork on time but workers hadn’t processed the certificates before the stay came down, according to a Wednesday news release from Ricky D. Hatch, the county clerk. When the stay came down, Hatch wrote that he held off on processing the certificates. With legal assurances from the Weber County attorney and Reyes, Hatch has ordered that the remaining certificates be processed. He said the couples should receive their certified copies through the mail in the next few days.

If the unions were solemnized before Monday, finalizing them is an “administrative function and not a legal function,” Reyes said in a press release. He recommended that counties issue the certificates so the couples have “proper documentation in states that recognize same-sex marriage.”

In Salt Lake County, meanwhile, couples who got a license but didn’t have a ceremony in time could be eligible for a partial refund of their application fee. Regardless of the outcome of the court battle over Amendment 3, license applications expire in 30 days if they’re not completed and returned. Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she planned to ask the County Council’s permission to issue refunds after the 82 incomplete licenses’ expiration date on Feb. 3.

“We normally say no refunds, but I think this is kind of an extenuating, unusual circumstance,” she said. Completing a marriage license is a three-step process: A couple gets an application for a $40 fee, is wed in a ceremony and has the officiant return the signed form. The union isn’t legal until the whole process is done.

A total of 1,061 licenses were issued by Salt Lake County during the nine business days same-sex marriage was legal, compared to 279 the year before during that period.

If the council approves the refund, Swenson said her office could return $30 of the fee. By law, the other $10 has already been sent to the state for a Children’s Defense Fund.

Couples would come into the county clerk’s office and return the application with a note explaining why they couldn’t finish the process.

Lindsay Whitehurst

Proponents of same-sex marriage will gather at the Utah State Capitol on Friday at 12:30 for a press conference and to deliver an online petition, signed by 41,000 people, urging Utah Gov. Gary Herbert not to pursue an appeal of a ruling overturning Amendment 3.

The press conference will include remarks from Tim Wagner, who started the petition drive; Troy Williams, a radio host and gay activist; and Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged Utah’s ban.

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California is a blue state, Utah the reddest of reds. California has one of the nation’s largest gay and lesbian populations with some 98,000 same-sex households, Utah has one of the smallest at 3,900. California is, well, California. Utah is Mormon central.

But the 57-year-old Lawrence was undaunted, even when national gay rights groups didn’t take him seriously and local groups took a "wait and see attitude."

"It was kind of difficult to get them to pay attention to what we were doing," Lawrence said.

Lawrence began having "what if?" conversations with friends in July 2011, as California’s legal fight over Proposition 8 continued its march through the courts.

While religious and conservative factions in Utah were an obstacle, Lawrence said the real challenge he faced was apathy.

"That was the hardest to overcome," he said. "I’ve never been one to accept apathy. I don’t like it."

So he kept talking and meeting, talking and meeting. And soon he was convinced he was on to something.

In February 2013, Lawrence formally set up Restore Our Humanity for the sole purpose of staging a legal challenge aimed at toppling Utah’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

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And he began searching for a legal team willing to take on the David v. Goliath legal fight, exchanging emails with several attorneys and having at least one conversation with a lawyer that went "nowhere."

Then, he met with two attorneys at Magleby & Greenwood in Salt Lake City. Within five minutes, Lawrence said he knew James E. Magleby and Peggy A. Tomsic were the perfect fit.

"It was magic," he said of that two-hour conversation. "They were very driven. I thought, ‘This is it.’"

Lawrence is perhaps an unlikely candidate to be at theforefront of the gay community’s effort to topple Amendment 3.

He is an information technology specialist with the Unified Fire Authority’s emergency center and lives at home with his elderly parents. Lawrence moved in with his parents a couple years ago to help care for his father, who is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

"I don’t have much of a life outside of that," he said.

Lawrence came out to his family in the late 1970s, when he was 17.

"I’ve got a great family and parents who always showed great support," he said.

His past political experience consisted of protesting Anita Bryant, who in the ’70s led an anti-gay movement, and being a delegate at a Democratic Party convention.

Six years ago, a bout with lung cancer rousted Lawrence from his own state of apathy.

"When you go through that, you look at things differently," he said.

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