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They were there for the children. Their own, others', those who haven't been born yet even the children of gay couples.
Supporters of man-woman marriage holding signs declaring "biology is not bigotry" and "two moms don't equal a dad" cheered long and loud as conservative activist Mary Summerhays projected on a screen images of same-sex couples and their children.
"This child has a mother," she said, as an image of Matthew Baraza and Tony Milner filled the screen. In it, the two men were holding their son Jesse. "These are the faces of the children who will pay the price of redefining marriage."
Next flashed a photo of Megan Berrett and Candice Green-Berrett with their baby daughter Quinn.
"I'm sure these girls would make great mothers," Summerhays said. "But one thing they can never be is a father. One thing they can never make or be is one of each."
Summerhays, who leads the organizing group of Thursday's rally, Utah Celebration of Marriage, said these children were among the chief reasons several hundred people gathered under the painted dome of the Utah State Capitol: to demonstrate to local and national officials, to media and onlookers that there is still support in Utah for so-called "traditional" families, made up of one mother and one father.
But up in the banisters and sprinkled among sign-holders on the Capitol steps were supporters of same-sex marriage, who held signs of their own denouncing hate and lauding "inalienable rights over states' rights."
Few stayed for the entirety of the nearly two-hour rally, but, said Restore Our Humanity Director Mark Lawrence, it was important for them to be there.
"We want to put a face on the people they're discriminating against," he said. "If everything stopped tomorrow, and same-sex marriage went back to being illegal in Utah, gay and lesbian couples would still have and raise children. That's just a fact. ... It's been happening since the dawn of civilization."
On Sept. 29, the U.S. Supreme Court's nine justices will convene for the first time to discuss which same-sex marriage case if any the court may take in its upcoming session.
Among the seven lawsuits under consideration is Utah's landmark case of Kitchen v. Herbert, the first in the country in which a federal judge overturned a state ban on same-sex unions on the basis that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
The state's lead counsel on the case, Gene C. Schaerr, was greeted Thursday evening with a standing ovation.
He discussed briefly the state's argument in the case that adopting a "genderless definition of marriage" that would enable men to marry men and women to marry women would ultimately hurt children and reiterated his belief in states' rights to define marriage as they deem appropriate.
"I'm not predicting victory, but I'm not pessimistic about our chances," Schaerr said of Utah's case. "Of the three [justices] who have made public their views on this issue all three have gone our way."
The creator of Utah's embattled Amendment 3, which banned gay and lesbian marriages, Rep. LaVar Christensen also spoke, prompting several legislators in the crowd to stand up and accept applause for their defense of "traditional marriage and Utah families."
Central in the speakers' addresses was the fear that children raised without a mother and a father would fare worse than those in opposite-sex parent homes.
Many attendees felt the same.
"I wish all children could have the experience of a dad that's going to be around and a mom that's going to be around," said Carolina Allen, who has six children between the ages of two and 17 and lives in Provo. "I guess I'm an idealist, but that rings true to me: That kids need a mom and a dad, that they'd all be better for it."
Salt Lake City has one of the highest percentages of same-sex couples with children, according to the Williams Institute at the Univesrity of California-Los Angeles. As of last year, about 26 percent of all gay and lesbian couples in the metro area were raising children.
Utah has pointed to, but later backed away from, the findings of Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, who offered research to bolster the claim that opposite-sex parenting is the "gold standard" for children.
The American Sociological Society has found that children raised in a two-parent home tend to do well regardless of their parents' gender.
Lawrence, and those who support same-sex marriage, took issue with the premise of Thursday's event: that Utah's main concern is to defend the rights of children and protect families.
"These people claim to be family oriented, they claim to be child oriented, but they're not," Lawrence said. "Yet they promote discrimination that puts our families and our children in harm's way."
Inside the Capitol, little boys and girls sat on their parents' laps. They held signs. They posed for photos and stood to cheer when their parents did.
One 8-year-old put marker to paper to make clear why she supported opposite-sex unions. She wrote "God made two genders for a reason. Adam and Eve, not Eve and Eve or Adam and Adam. Get it right! It's Adam and Eve."
Around the edges, she drew hearts.