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Utahns give heartfelt send-off to couples in gay marriage case

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Attorney Peggy A. Tomsic speaks to the crowd during the Utahns United for Marriage "send-off" event Monday night at Library Square, Monday, April 7, 2014

By Marissa Lang

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 07 2014 09:16PM
Updated Apr 9, 2014 07:44AM

On the back of a blue paper heart, Rachel Motschiedler wrote a message to the couples whose lawsuit toppled Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages and allowed her to wed her partner of 11 years:

"Fight hard."

It was one of more than 200 messages scrawled in marker and delivered Monday to the plaintiffs of the historic case that overturned Utah’s Amendment 3 in December.

The notes, said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, represent the thoughts of countless Utahns who will keep these couples in their own hearts as the plaintiffs and their legal team leave this week for Denver, where they will make their case for same-sex marriage before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We thank you for standing up for marriage equality," Becker said. "We are humbled by your courage."

There were thank-yous all around Monday as each of the couples at the center of the lawsuit took turns addressing a crowd of hundreds of well-wishers.

They shared their stories, their gratitude and their hope for the future of Utah.

"When we started fighting this thing we were told we were all wrong — the wrong plaintiffs, the wrong place and the wrong time," said Kate Call, whose terminally ill wife Karen Archer did not attend the send-off. "But I think Utah is exactly the right place. We’ve experimented with marriage and relationships that are nontraditional our whole history."

As she spoke, plaintiff Derek Kitchen draped his arm over the shoulders of his partner Moudi Sbeity. The green heart in his hand dangled over Sbeity’s chest, emblazoned with the words "Freedom means freedom for everyone."

Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, who are also plaintiffs in the case, held hands and smiled to the crowd as politicians, activists and their attorney Peggy Tomsic took their turns at the lectern.

When Partridge spoke, she told the crowd this was not the first time she’d received anonymous notes from strangers.

She held up a white piece of paper with a heart cut out from its center — it had been sent to them shortly after the December decision that allowed more than 1,200 gay and lesbian couples to wed in Utah.

"It says, ‘Thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into ensuring marriage equality in Utah,’ " she read. "Now we say thank you for your words and support. They matter so very much to us."

In the audience, gay and straight couples held hands and signs.

Some cried quietly as others cheered loudly.

Men and women bounced children on their knees.

It’s families like these, said longtime Utah news anchor Terry Wood, that the Amendment 3 lawsuit aims to protect.

"Allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will not only make Utah stronger," said Wood, whose openly gay son inspired him to speak out on behalf of same-sex couples, "it will make our nation stronger, as well."

On Thursday morning, Tomsic will make her case before a panel of three judges at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. She will have half an hour to do so.

The state, represented by its hired team of Gene Schaerr, John Bursch and Monte Neil Stewart, will also have half an hour to argue in its attempt to persuade the court to overturn Judge Robert Shelby’s historic ruling.

But Mark Lawrence, the man widely credited for jump-starting the effort to challenge Utah’s law, said Monday he was confident that the 10th Circuit will rule in the couples’ favor.

"Time and again, Utah has shown the world that our nature is that of compassion, of love, of family and integrity," Lawrence said. "We are on the eve of restoring that characterization before the world."

Becker, who helped organize Monday’s rally on behalf of his new organization, Utah Unites for Marriage, said he felt it was important to remind the plaintiffs that there are thousands of Utah individuals and families who support them in their quest for same-sex marriage rights.

"Who can deny this kind of love and commitment under law?" Becker asked. "It means so much to be able to stand here with these couples and support them, as they have supported all of us in this quest for equal rights."

mlang@sltrib.com" target="_blank">class="TEXT_no_Indent">mlang@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Marissa_Jae

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