Discussions come as U.S. Supreme Court sets hearing on Prop. 8 and Defense of Marriage Act.
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Ogden • When the Rev. Robb Trujillo officiates at weddings, he can legally marry a man and a woman but he cannot himself get married to his longtime partner.
Trujillo said same-sex couples have obstacles in raising families that could be resolved with legal recognition. He and his partner are raising seven children.
"In Utah, even gay couples have large families," said Trujillo's partner, Mark Dexheimer-Trujillo. "I feel like we're behind the curve when we hear politicians and other authorities say that somehow this Ozzie and Harriet world is breaking down, and somehow [same-sex marriage] is contributing to it, and I'm saying it's already happened," said Dexheimer-Trujillo, referring to the 1950s-era TV show "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."
The OUTreach Resource Center held a panel discussion earlier this month concerning same-sex marriage, or marriage "equality," bringing a dozen people to talk about the topic from various perspectives.
As the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearings next month on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gay nuptials are portrayed by opponents as an effort to rewrite the traditional rules of matrimony. Quietly, outside the courtroom spotlight, many gay couples are doing just that, according to OUTreach panelists.
Panelists said there should be a line drawn between civil unions and religious marriages. The first is recognized by the state and offers equal legal rights to same-sex couples. The latter remains within the scope of church officials, who could continue to just recognize traditional marriages of one man, one woman.
Attorney Shane Marx, of Salt Lake City, said many European countries have this two-pronged approach to marriage, keeping the legal and religious ceremonies separate.
"Ninety years ago, everyone was married by the justice of peace in this country," Marx said to the audience gathered at the event in the Weber County Library. "Then pastors were allowed to marry."
Marx said he's helping to raise a child with a lesbian couple, one who is the biological mother, which has caused legal issues concerning health insurance and taxes, among others.
"You can be a single gay parent and adopt in Utah, but you can't be in a long-term [same-sex] relationship [and adopt]," Marx said.
Love brought Dexheimer-Trujillo and Trujillo together, but they said they knew from the beginning that their bond would be created on their own terms, especially since they both had children from previous relationships. Their boundary-challenging gay relationship includes seven children.
Dexheimer-Trujillo was married to his former wife with children Mark, 27, Angela, 25, Laurel, 21, and Alexandra (who died at age 11). Trujillo has three children from a previous relationship: Lillie, 16, Bella, 14, and Dillan, 8.
And they have been raising Jordan Kersey, 20. All of the children's mothers are a part of the arrangement.
"There's extra rooms in each house, and a lot of time the lines would blur, but we had much of our dinners together," Dexheimer-Trujillo said. "I've always felt as a stepparent. Because our arrangement is so intentional, we have a way of dealing with it."
Jamila Tharp and Michelle Hastings, who are raising a daughter, agreed. The Utah couple were legally married in California before the Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage.
"It is sad that such a false statement was made that marriages like Michelle's and my religious marriage cause 'violence to the institution of marriage,' " Tharp wrote in an email. "That is simply not true. Religious marriage is decided by religious groups. Civil marriage that carries over 1,400 civil state and federal rights and protections ought to be available to all citizens."
Neca Allgood, a member of Mormons Building Bridges, said she would like a more inclusive approach to gay relationships.
"I want them to have the legal rights that we have," said Allgood, of Syracuse. "I believe loving families are a public good."
Allison Black, president of Ogden PFLAG: Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said she ended up leaving the LDS Church.
"If you stand up for your gay kids, then you're against the church," Black said. "I believe he [God] gave me gay kids for a reason."
In 2008, many Utahns were involved in Prop 8. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent $189,004 on the "Yes on 8" campaign, while businesses and individuals from Utah contributed $3.8 million to the campaign, more than 70 percent of it in support of Prop 8.
However, this week, attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in quiet discussions with leaders of Utah's gay and lesbian community, trying to hammer out language for a statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination that the church could support.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, opened a bill file on Thursday called Housing and Employment Amendments and will sponsor the legislation should an agreement be reached.
"In my personal and legal experience, I believe we all have a basic understanding of fundamental fairness, regardless of religion, gender or sexual orientation," attorney Marx wrote in an email. "This understanding comes from our shared experience as a human race and not necessarily from political or spiritual doctrines."
If traditional marriages are in crisis, panelists said same-sex couples wanting legal recognition are not the cause.
So while the legal fight over same-sex marriage plays out, gay couples said the real battle is making relationships last, especially if their answers defy the prevailing definition of marriage.
"We feel that love is what defines us," Trujillo said. "We deserve equality under the law."
'Standing on the Side of Love' protest Thursday
P Same-sex couples and their allies will meet at 11:30 a.m. Thursday for what's being called "Standing on the Side of Love" for marriage equality. The protest will be held at the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office, 2001 S. State St. For details, go to marriageequality.org.