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Utah's struggle for legalized gay marriage is about to take center stage once again on a cable TV reality series.
Season 3 of Bravo's "Newlyweds: The First Year" starting Sunday features husbands Brandon Liberati and Craig Ramsay. And, while the couple live in California, Liberati is a Salt Lake City native who grew up in a Mormon family.
"Utah is a huge part of my story, of our story," Liberati said. "And we talk about it in the show."
He talks about the "great times" and having "some of the hardest times of my life there. Everyone knows that being gay in Utah is still quite a struggle, even though marriage is legal now. We really give people outside of Utah a look at the struggle that the gay community goes through inside the state."
"Newlyweds" follows four couples through the first year of their marriage. Liberati and Ramsay are the only same-sex couple, and they believe appearing on a show with three straight couples will underline the fact that "our relationship is no different than anyone else's," Ramsay said.
""One of the main reasons we did this was for marriage equality," Liberati said. "To actually show people who had fear about the [Supreme Court] decision [legalizing gay marriage] that we're actually no different than any other married couple."
(Season 1 of "Newlyweds" featured a gay male couple; Season 2 featured a lesbian couple.)
Like other couples, Liberati and Ramsay argue at times. Like other couples, they struggle to start a family.
"We have to create our families. And it's done in such a loving way," Ramsay said. "Hopefully, it's going to resonate especially with people in Salt Lake City that we have really strong family values."
The other three couples aren't representing anything other than themselves. Liberati and Ramsay are aware they will, unavoidably, be symbols for gay marriage, although Ramsay, in particular, resists the idea that they are role models, pointing to some advice he once got from Rosie O'Donnell.
"She said, 'You can't be a role model. All you can be is yourself. And if it's relatable to others, it's up to others to put you into that category,' " he said.
"With that said, I do feel like we have a huge responsibility to our community in how we portray ourselves and change people's attitudes toward our marriage toward gay marriage," Liberati said.
And they both said that, while they'd been together for four years before they got married, walking down the aisle changed things.
Other people including family members saw them differently "as soon as we were legally married," Liberati said. "It was almost like we started being treated like we were a real couple then."
The couple are not unfamiliar with celebrity or reality TV. Liberati is a celebrity makeup expert and hairstylist whose work has been featured on TV and in movies; Ramsay is a fitness expert who trains celebrity clients. He was a regular in the Bravo reality series "Thintervention" and was seen training contestants on "RuPaul's Drag Race."
Together, they operate Fit + Phab (fitandphab.com), "a one-stop shop for all your beauty, fitness and wellness needs."
"Growing up in Utah has definitely made me who I am today," Liberati said. "That has given me a thick skin. So I can actually handle anything Hollywood throws at me.
"But my family and I still have personal struggles … as far as being accepted. It's been quite a process for all of us."
The first year of their marriage encompassed the first court ruling declaring gay marriage legal in Utah; the stays that left the married gay couples including Liberati's sister and her wife in limbo; and the Supreme Court decision overturning all anti-gay-marriage laws.
"It was highly confusing to my Canadian family to see the struggle that Brandon's sister was going through as far as having her marriage accepted," Ramsay said.
And the recent controversy over LDS Church policy that Mormons who enter into same-sex unions will be considered apostates and their children will be barred from blessing and baptism rituals without the permission of the faith's highest leaders is something that troubles the couple.
"My family is directly affected," Liberati said. "And even if it doesn't directly affect me because I'm no longer participating in the church, it affects the way friends and family that are still active as Latter-day Saints treat us."
But Ramsay said he's encouraged by what he's experienced in Utah on recent trips.
"We have lots of family and friends Brandon's family, that is that are still Mormon. And we find tremendous support from them," he said "There's definitely a shift happening within the Mormon church by such people, because they want change. They don't want to have to be in the closet where they can't openly support us."
The couple are hoping their time on "Newlyweds" will help contribute to that understanding.
"I would love for people to walk away with their own opinion of marriage through watching us, and not adopting something that somebody else is forcing on them or making them believe," Liberati said. "Honestly, people will see there is no difference between us and those other couples. We are just like you. Our marriage is just like yours."
"But like my straight brother says our marriage is much more fabulous," Ramsay said, with a laugh.
The 90-minute Season 3 premiere of "Newlyweds: The First Year" airs Sunday, Jan. 3, at 10 p.m. on Bravo. Hourlong episodes begin airing in their regular timeslot Wednesdays at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6.