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In Utah, gay couples can't marry or legally adopt children. Anti-discrimination laws are few; not even two dozen local governments have laws protecting gays from housing and job discrimination. Students are tormented by classmates, not least because of state laws that forbid teachers from explaining natural sexuality.

And the Legislature has for decades refused to enact even the most meager protections for a community that still offers the best of its work, humanity and heart to all of us.

Now, with the U.S. Supreme Court about to hear challenges to two major anti-gay-rights laws, the Utah Pride Center and dozens of like-minded organizations nationwide have joined in a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to find that this nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens deserve the same right to marriage as their straight counterparts.

Utah Pride should be congratulated for working with two Salt Lake City attorneys — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — to demand that the court strike down laws that pointedly tell the LGBT community: "You are not equal."

The attorneys, Paul Burke and Brett Tolman, write that "the ultimate question … is whether gay Americans must continue to live as second-class citizens" under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8, in which voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The brief seems to focus on Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts, both of whom have been involved in past cases that brought down onerous laws targeting gays.

Burke and Tolman also evoke David Phan, a gay Taylorsville 14-year-old who had been bullied by other students and suspended by school officials. In November, he took a gun armed with one bullet and, in front of other students, killed himself.

He left one last note: "I had a great life but I must leave."

The lawyers also point to military members who are gay and may have married legally in other states but who, if stationed in Utah, could suffer discrimination here.

"Compare that," Burke says, "to black soldiers sent back to [formerly] segregated states."

(To its credit, the Pentagon recently reversed many policies damaging to gay and lesbian couples.)

For the LDS Church-backed Prop 8, the justices will consider whether the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause bars California from defining marriage as the union of only a man and a woman. For DOMA, the court will hear arguments about whether it violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law.

It's the "equal protection" argument that resonates. Through the centuries, Americans have come to understand that immigrants, people of color and those with unfamiliar origins and religions have proven that ignorance and fear can be vanquished by the conversations we have with those we deem "different."

The high court is to hear the Prop 8 case on March 26 and DOMA on March 27. Rulings could come as soon as June.

The stakes are not just gay marriage, but also state and federal tax policies, Social Security and veterans' benefits, among many other advantages that married couples take for granted.

As the brief says, the "promise of America will not be realized until there is legal equality for gay Americans everywhere — not just at Stonewall and in Seneca Falls, but also in Selma, Sacramento and Salt Lake City."

That's a promise I'd dearly love to be kept for my friends, relatives and co-workers. We need look only at the Declaration of Independence and its promise of equality and "certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at, and Twitter: @pegmcentee.

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