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Hundreds gather to ask Utah governor to stop same-sex marriage appeal

Rally » “It felt like fireworks bursting in my heart,” Utah boy says of moms’ marriage.

First Published Jan 10 2014 01:59 pm • Last Updated Jan 10 2014 09:41 pm

The message from more than 1,000 gays and lesbians and their supporters who crowded the state Capitol rotunda Friday to hand state officials two petitions asking them not to appeal a decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Utah was loud and clear: It’s about love and family.

"Gov. Herbert, you say you want to protect children, then start with ours," said Megan Berrett, who cradled 4-month-old daughter Quinn with wife Candice Berrett.

At a glance

LDS Church issues strong directive to lay leaders

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued its strongest statement yet on the same-sex marriage situation in Utah, reminding its lay leaders across the country that they may not perform marriages or allow them to take place on church property.

The two-page statement asked congregational leaders to share the message from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles with members “in appropriate settings.”

The LDS Church quoted a passage from Genesis about marriage and reproduction, which it said illustrated that marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and “central to his plan for his children and for the well-being of society.”

“Changes in the civil law do not, indeed cannot, change the moral law that God has established,” the statement said. “God expects us to uphold and keep his commandments regardless of divergent opinions or trends in society.”

It said the contentious situation calls for civility on both sides while the lawsuit proceeds through court.

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"We want our daughter to have both her parents be legally responsible for her," said Candice Berrett, who married Megan in 2012 in New York and were one of the first couples married in Utah last month.

Tim Wagner, a Salt Lake resident and community organizer, and Matt Jacobson of St. George, said they gathered more than 58,000 signatures on their two separate, online petitions. Eighty percent of those who signed are Utahns or have Utah connections, Wagner said.

"I care about love, just like the rest of you, that’s why I did this," said Wagner. He launched his petition on Dec. 20, the same day U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on gay marriage, after reading about Herbert’s reaction to the decision.

Matt Jacobson, who traveled to another state in August to marry his partner, also started an online petition after hearing about Shelby’s decision and the state’s response to it.

"Tell the governor there are way better things we can spend $2 million on than hate," he told the crowd.

Troy Williams, a local radio host and gay activist, had dozens of couples who married before the stay gather on a staircase behind the speakers and compared their message to that of civil rights leaders of the past.

Among them: Molly Butterworth, 33, who is seven months pregnant. Butterworth said she’s worried that if the state doesn’t recognize their marriage, it could leave her unborn daughter with wife Davida Wegner, 34, vulnerable.

Only one of the girl’s mothers could be on the birth certificate, so the other could be prevented from making medical decisions at a hospital, for example, or run into problems keeping the family together if Butterworth died.

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"Utah is all about families and recognizing our family, protecting our child would protect Utah values in a lot of ways," Butterworth said.

The crowd also heard from Riley Hackford-Peer, a shaggy, red-headed sixth-grader who said he has wanted his moms to get married for a while.

"I was scared of being taken away from one of my moms," he said. "Some people don’t believe I’m from a loving family because my moms are gay. They are wrong."

Riley first asked his moms Ruth and Kim, who met 17 years ago, to drive to Iowa to marry when he learned it was legal there. Riley said his moms explained that their marriage still wouldn’t be legal in Utah and that they wanted to marry in their home state. And then came Shelby’s decision.

"On Dec. 20, it happened. I saw my moms get married in Utah," Riley said, as his brother Casey stood by his side. "It felt like fireworks bursting in my heart."

Many of those who turned out for the rally carried signs, with messages such as "Follow the golden rule. Let it stand" and "Our family, friends, employers and our federal government all honor this. Have some honor, too, Governor Herbert."

Among elected officials who attended the rally: Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, who said she was "thrilled" by the turnout. Also on hand were Amy Wicks, an Ogden City councilwoman, and state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake.

The rally took place hours after the federal government announced it would recognize same-sex marriages that occurred before the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state’s request for a stay.

Chris Sonderegger, 50, said he’s glad the federal government will recognize his Dec. 23 marriage because he’s worried that if he died, his family would shut out his partner of 25 years, 47-year-old Jim Grow.

"I have a very, very conservative Mormon family, and there would be a very real chance they would come in and take everything," he said.

Sue Geary, who married partner Michele Page on Dec. 20 in Utah after 11 years together, said Herbert has an opportunity to be a hero in historical moment. She applauded the federal recognition but said the situation is still confusing.

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