Hundreds of gay-rights advocates gathered Monday night in a candlelight ceremony, preparing for the oral arguments dealing with two gay marriage cases to be heard Tuesday and Wednesday in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court will focus on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8 case, but vigil participants wanted the public to know what's going on with the Utah gay community.
Many participants spoke about the lack of legal protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) in Utah and what these cases could mean for them.
A question many asked in the crowd: Are all people treated equally in Utah?
In fact, it's legal to discriminate against LGBT Utahns, unless you live in certain locations, such as Salt Lake City. It's one of 17 municipalities in Utah that have ordinances prohibiting LGBT discrimination in employment and housing.
"If I didn't work in Salt Lake County, I wouldn't disclose my identity," said Susie Schroer, a lesbian who has lived in Utah for seven years.
Elizabeth Wallace, a straight woman, said she has observed discrimination firsthand: "One of my transgender friends had a problem getting a job after college even though she was very qualified."
For five years, advocates have been trying to pass a statewide antidiscrimination law that would protect gay people from being fired from a job or kicked out of an apartment. It has never gone for a vote in the Legislature.
During the rally held at the Salt Lake City Library amphitheater, some 400 participants held candles while "We are Family" by Sister Sledge played over the P.A. system. Russell Baker-Gorringe, a longtime activist and speaker, said many people in the LGBT community don't come forward because they're afraid to come out of the closet.
They're afraid of backlash if more people find out they are gay.
Several years ago, he was up for a promotion but didn't get it. Baker-Gorringe asked the human-resource director why he didn't get it, even though he was more qualified than the person eventually hired.
"I was outright told: 'You didn't get the promotion because you're gay,' " Baker-Gorringe, a native Utahn, said.
LGBT advocates say when even one person is discriminated against in our society, everyone suffers.
Valerie Larabee, executive director of Utah Pride Center, which organized the event, said more than just gay activists will need to be involved. It also will take straight people standing up for the rights of their gay friends, asking for the laws to be changed if gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are to be protected from discrimination, she said.
Several participants pointed out that same-sex couples are not only ineligible for state benefits, but of the many federal benefits of being married. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law, according to the Human Right Campaign, the largest gay advocacy group.
Since the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, same-sex couples even if legally married in their state will not be considered spouses for purposes of federal law, which will affect many areas: Social Security, income taxes, estate taxes and tax credits for children.
Larabee said to cheers from the crowd, "We don't want to continue to be second-class citizens."
Osmonds join Gov. Herbert in Celebration of Marriage event
Who • Alan and Suzanne Osmond, Gov. Gary Herbert, and "pro family" groups. Speakers expected are Father Erik Richtsteig, St. James Catholic Church in Ogden, Sen. Stuart Reid, Sen. Margaret Dayton, and Rabbi Benny Zippel, Chabad Lubavitch (written statement of support due to Passover).
What • Show support for "natural-gendered" marriage on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Proposition 8 case.
Where • Utah State Capitol Rotunda
When • 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.