Thousands in Salt Lake City protest LDS stance on same-sex marriage

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Opponents of a measure that banned gay marriage in California took their outrage to the spiritual hub of Mormonism on Friday.

More than 3,000 people swarmed downtown Salt Lake City to march past the LDS temple and church headquarters, protesting Mormon involvement in the campaign for California's Proposition 8. The measure, which defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, passed this week.

A sea of signs in City Creek Park, where the march began, screamed out messages including, "I didn't vote on your marriage," "Mormons once persecuted . . . Now persecutors," and "Jesus said love everyone." Others read, "Proud of my two moms" and "Protect traditional marriage. Ban divorce."

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and three openly gay state legislators, Sen. Scott McCoy and Reps. Jackie Biskupski and Christine Johnson, spoke out in support. At one point, the crowd took up the mantra made famous by the country's new president-elect: "Yes, we can!"

Then, the masses headed west, weaving between cars, waving at those who watched from windows in the LDS Church Office Building and shouting chants such as: "What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!"

Across the street on North Temple, a group of about 50 - the majority not LDS members - defended the church's support of the successful ballot measure. "The people voted," they shouted at the protesters. "YOU are intolerant!"

Others screamed: "Marriage is between a man and woman. You'll never be a man and woman!"

Some marchers offered heated arguments to the counterprotesters, others responded by kissing their partners. The romantic moments were greeted with cheers.

Tonight's demonstration in Salt Lake City followed a similar protest Thursday at the LDS Temple in Westwood, Calif., a Los Angeles neighborhood. Now several national gay activists have proposed boycotting Utah and challenging the LDS Church's tax-exempt status.

"The main focus is going to be going after the Utah brand," John Aravosis, an influential Washington, D.C.-based blogger, told the Associated Press. "We're going to destroy the Utah brand. It is a hate state."

Church officials are "disturbed" that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was "singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election," said LDS spokesman Scott Trotter earlier Friday.

"Millions of others from every faith, ethnicity and political affiliation who voted for Proposition 8 exercised the most sacrosanct and individual rights in the United States - that of free expression and voting," Trotter said. "While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process."

The church urged those on all sides of the debate over same sex marriage to "act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility towards each other," Trotter said. "No one on either side of the question should be vilified, harassed or subject to erroneous information."

Attacking a religious organization rarely works, said Joe Mathews, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a political think tank in southern California.

"In fact, it's counterproductive," said Mathews, who supports gay marriage. He said he understands why opponents of the ballot measure would target the LDS Church.

"Mormons are unpopular and the church went a long way in diving into this issue," he said. "But it doesn't make long-term strategic sense. You are appealing to religious bigotry and I don't think that's a good idea. You need to convince people of faith that they're not under attack."

Those who came to protest Friday were not necessarily thinking about political strategy.

Morgan Smith of Salt Lake City, who identified himself as an active Mormon, hopes the attention will encourage Mormon officials "to show greater love for its gay and lesbian members."

He demonstrated alongside Salt Lake City's David Nielsen who said he wants to see "more exposure and more shame to my church."

While members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community came out in force, there were plenty of others who stood with them.

Eli Isaac, 61, of Salt Lake City, felt compelled to come out because of the war he fought. The disabled Vietnam veteran joined the crowd, "to support these people's rights, the rights I fought for. I fought for all Americans."

Nearby, two 8-year-old girls chanted in unison, "Two, four, six, eight. We will not cooperate!" Grace Thorstin, dressed in pink and holding a sign that read "Love is a part of life," explained: "We just think people have the right to love who they want."

Joanie Garbett, held a bundled-up granddaughter, 4-year-old Stella, and explained why she felt the need to take part. A lifelong member of the LDS Church who has no intention of leaving, Garbett, 78, said she was "very surprised" by the church's recent actions and felt the message about family had "morphed into something it shouldn't be . . . How we got into this mess, I don't know. I think it's a very dangerous step the church has made."

But this swell in Salt Lake City wasn't just about a proposition two states over.

"We've been quiet for a really long time," said Jen Bogart, 24, who marched beside her girlfriend, with the Salt Lake Temple lit up to her left. "If the gays and lesbians in Utah can march in the streets, the gays and lesbians everywhere can march."

Doyle Clayburn, 57, said he wanted Utahns to wake up to reality. "There's not just one or two who care," he said. "It's not a California issue. It's a human issue."