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Joe and Russ Baker-Gorringe were legally married in California before Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in the state.

On Valentine's Day, the Utah couple tried to again tie the knot by applying for a marriage license at the Salt Lake County Government Center.

They were denied, like hundreds of others in 20 cities across the U.S. on Thursday, who attempted to wed to bring awareness to the ongoing debate of marriage equality for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) communities.

"It's about love," said Joe Baker-Gorringe, summing up the day's event in Salt Lake City.

Called Standing on the Side of Love Action, more than a dozen gay couples were joined by activists, church leaders and supporters to highlight the issue at the clerk's office.

In Utah, same-sex marriage is illegal because voters in 2004 amended the Utah Constitution to define marriage as between only a man and a woman.

The issue is again in the spotlight, however, with the legality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court next month. DOMA denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to do the same even when such unions were legally approved in other states.

The high court will also rule on California's Prop 8, which overturned gay marriage.

Jackie Biskuspie, Utah's first openly gay legislator, said the court's decisions could be a turning point, especially for gay couples in Utah. As far as the Supreme Court, legal experts have said the nine justices have wide latitude in both cases, so their decisions could decide the gay-marriage issue for the nation or leave it up to each state, she said.

Ken Kimball, of the Utah Pride Center, said the court's decision could be a turning point, which is why the center is filing an amicus or "friend of the court" brief in the cases. Kimball said it will be filed by two Utah lawyers: Democrat Paul Burke and Republican Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah who is now in private practice.

"Utah denies love," Kimball told the crowd at Thursday's rally.

There have been shifts in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. In November, voters in three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — approved same-sex marriage, marking the first time the issue was approved by voters instead of the result of legislative or court action.

Currently, nine states and Washington, D.C., offer same-sex marriage.

Brian Silva, executive director of Marriage Equality USA in New York, encouraged the Utah crowd and said: "Our love will be recognized sooner rather than later."

The Rev. Erin Gilmore, pastor of Holladay United Church of Christ, reiterated the day's message of love, in whatever expression.

"I affirm love wherever it shows up," she told the clapping crowd. "We are not going away."

Although the event had a serious message, it conveyed more of a party atmosphere than protest. Festive red and white balloons floated in the county clerk's office atrium and the crowd was encouraged to sing such tunes as "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."

Jamila Tharp and Michelle Hasting, who have been active in Utah's fight for marriage equality, said there is hope that the LGBT community will one day have equal legal rights.

"Together we can end the unnecessary discrimination," Tharp said.

Twitter: @rayutah