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Sen. Derek Kitchen and his husband announce they are separating but remain proud of their fight for marriage equality

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity, plaintiffs in Kitchen v. Herbert, discuss the journey to marriage equality in Utah at their home in Salt Lake City in 2014. They announced Sunday that they plan to divorce but remain proud of their advocacy and legal fight for gay marriage.

State Sen. Derek Kitchen, a gay rights pioneer who sued for the right to marry in Utah, announced Sunday that he and his husband of four years plan to divorce.

“[I]t is with much love and in the interest of living with full transparency still, that we are letting you know that we have decided to pursue individual paths and end our marriage,” Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, a freshman senator who previously served as a Salt Lake City councilman, wrote in an Instagram post. “Had we known that this would be the outcome when we met, we would do it all over again.”

Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity met 10 years ago and were among three couples who successfully sued in 2013 to legalize gay marriage in Utah, a case that garnered national attention. They married in May 2015, just before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to wed.

“What they’ve done together is going to stay in the history books and will be part of Utah’s history from now to forevermore,” said Rob Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center.

Kitchen and Sbeity co-own a Lebanese restaurant called Laziz Kitchen in the Central Ninth neighborhood and remain “good friends, business partners, and supporters for each other,” the Instagram post said. Sbeity posted the same message to his Instagram account.

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When we met ten years ago, we did not know what would be in store for us, nor did we know how far our shared strengths and compatible differences would take us. We are incredibly proud of what we've been able to accomplish together - from our fight for marriage equality, growing two businesses, and running for public office. We've been proud to share this journey with you publicly with full transparency, right from the beginning. We couldn't have done it without your support. Within our fight for marriage equality, we fought for all the challenges and rights that come along with it. So, it is with much love and in the interest of living with full transparency still, that we are letting you know that we have decided to pursue individual paths and end our marriage. Had we known that this would be the outcome when we met, we would do it all over again. We remain good friends, business partners, and supporters for each other. We still care deeply for, and love each other, and hope that you can find comfort and love in the knowledge that we will continue to stand tall and work for our community, whether it's through politics, or a safe space for a warm meal. As we navigate this new reality, we hope that we can count on your respect and ongoing support. We are reminded of this quote from Francis Weller: "The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them." Grief for our loss and gratitude for our shared growth. Love is love, and love will be love again

A post shared by Derek Kitchen (@derekkitchen) on

Reached by phone Sunday, Kitchen declined to comment much beyond his social media statement but noted that he and Sbeity “fought for marriage and all the rights and opportunities and struggles that come along with that.”

The couple met in 2009, when Sbeity was studying at Utah State University and Kitchen was a student at the University of Utah. A few years later, they quit their jobs to co-found a small business called Laziz Foods, starting out by selling homemade hummus at the city’s farmers market. The company’s Middle Eastern goods are now stocked in grocery stores and cafes around the city, according to Kitchen’s website. They opened Laziz Kitchen together in 2016.

In a 2014 interview, Kitchen said he and Sbeity signed on to the marriage equality lawsuit — Kitchen v. Herbert — despite their concerns that it could cost their new business customers. They were also worried about exposing themselves and their relatives, particularly Sbeity’s family in Lebanon.

“Those are the risks we thought about and decided, it doesn’t matter, this is the right thing to do,” Kitchen told The Salt Lake Tribune.

In 2013, a federal judge sided with them by overturning Utah’s law against gay marriage, a ruling later upheld by a higher court. The case began a wave of similar rulings, culminating in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the nation.

Moolman commended Kitchen and Sbeity for their courage as gay rights advocates.

“We know that acts that move civil rights forward take tremendous bravery because you’re going counter to the status quo,” he said.

Though Utah has advanced in areas of LGBTQ inclusion, Moolman said the state’s gay and transgender communities still face marginalization and discrimination. And he said he is confident that Kitchen and Sbeity will remain leaders in the struggle for equality.

Kitchen and Sbeity said in their Instagram post that they are proud of their accomplishments as a couple, from starting their businesses to fighting for the ability to wed.

“[W]e will continue to stand tall and work for our community, whether it’s through politics, or a safe space for a warm meal," they wrote.

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