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Nine-year-old Lillian Gutierrez, left, joins her mother, Veronica, both of Denver, in waving placards at a protest outside the Federal Courthouse in downtown Denver on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. The protest, sponsored by Support Marriage Equality in Colorado, was held as a federal appeals court weighs inside the Denver courthouse whether to give an important victory to gay couples' right to marry in Utah and Oklahoma. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Rainbow rally calls for equality on eve of gay marriage hearing
Same-sex marriage » 10th Circuit Court will hear Utah case Thursday.
First Published Apr 09 2014 09:50 pm • Last Updated Apr 10 2014 08:13 am

Denver • As the sky darkened Wednesday over the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals here, two words lit up the courthouse steps in fluorescent blue.

The words spelled out why hundreds of people came downtown holding signs and waving rainbow flags.

At a glance

Same-sex marriage plaintiffs will be Utah Pride parade grand marshals

The six plaintiffs in the lawsuit to overturn Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage will be honored as heroes this summer by the Utah Pride Festival.

The three couples — Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, and Kate Call and Karen Archer — have been named grand marshals of the Utah Pride Parade, set for Sunday, June 8, in downtown Salt Lake City.

On Dec. 20, a federal judge hearing the couples’ lawsuit ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. That afternoon began a 17-day period in which more than 1,200 gay and lesbian couples legally received marriage licenses in Utah — until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of the judge’s ruling, pending an appeal.

The couples will be treated to a reception Friday, June 6, at the City-County Building, 450 S. State St., Salt Lake City.

The Pride Festival’s theme this year is “Love Equals Love.”

The couples are currently in Denver, where their case is being heard Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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They illuminated the reason why dozens of Utahns were making the trek to Denver this week in support of three couples who challenged Utah’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

"Marriage equality," as the message read, is a hope for all people, said Matthew Spencer of Restore Our Humanity, a Utah-based organization that helped jump-start the lawsuit challenging Amendment 3.

"It’s time for freedom in Utah, in our sister state of Colorado, in the entire 10th Circuit," Spencer told the crowd. "It will affect all of you. And I know we will be victorious."

Spencer went on to tell tales of individuals from Wyoming and Colorado and across the country who have pledged money to help foot the plaintiff’s legal bills in the Amendment 3 lawsuit.

"This belongs to us," he said. "It belongs to all of us."

On Wednesday, that feeling of solidarity came into clear focus outside the federal courthouse as a handful of Utahns joined with throngs of Coloradans and members of several national gay rights organizations to tout marriage for all.

"This is an important moment, an important precedent, not just in Utah but in a national movement that is reaching its crescendo," said Colorado State Sen. Pat Steadman, a vocal gay-rights advocate. "I don’t know what role the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is going to play, but equal rights means equal rights to marry the person of your choice. The time for marriage equality is here."

As the wind picked up and rainbow flags blew in the breeze, passing cars honked horns in support.

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The rally was organized to demonstrate Colorado’s support for the plaintiffs in the Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit, which will come before a panel of three judges in the 10th Circuit on Thursday morning.

The court will be the first in the nation to hear a case on gay marriage rights since last summer’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which struck down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Utah’s lead attorney, Gene Schaerr, will argue Thursday that state lawmakers and voters — not judges — have the right to decide who can marry under state law.

He will also outline the state’s reasons behind its decision to limit marriage to only a man and a woman: child welfare, promotion of responsible procreation and the avoidance of social chaos and religious strife.

Peggy Tomsic, who is representing the three couples petitioning to have Amendment 3 permanently overturned, will share with the judges the human side of the case and tell the judges how the state’s marriage ban has institutionalized discrimination against gay and lesbian couples and hurt families — particularly those couples with children.

The ban, Tomsic has said, is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection and due-process clauses.

Same-sex marriage proponents in Colorado, rally organizers said, are watching the Utah case with interest and hope — although Utah’s sister state allows civil unions, marriage for gay and lesbian couples is still outlawed.

Pricilla Ann Ledbury and Rhoda Lynne Whitney, who have been together for 32 years and married in California earlier this year, said they were looking forward to Thursday’s hearing.

"We’re really hoping the court does the right thing tomorrow," Whitney said.

"We’re standing on the side of love for all the couples," Ledbury added.

Utah’s now-famous plaintiffs — Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity; Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge; Kate Call and Karen Archer — did not attend Wednesday’s rally. But their stories have inspired many in Utah and beyond.

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