SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A little more than a month after a surprising federal court ruling overturned this conservative state's ban on gay marriage, the battle over the issue reached the Capitol building Tuesday as hundreds of opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage held twin rallies.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said Utah has become the epicenter of the fight over marriage and how it's decided.
"Activist judges now feel no qualms in simply putting forward their opinion as the law," Brown said. "The people of Utah voted on this."
Brown's Washington, D.C.-based group, which opposes same-sex marriage, held a rally inside the Capitol building with a local group called Celebration of Marriage. About 700 people attended, with many holding pink and blue signs handed out by organizers with messages such as "Biology is not bigotry."
Several supporters of gay marriage were escorted out by security officers after they interrupted the event by yelling, "Equality now." Several protesters sat on the floor in the middle of the event and threw glitter.
Rod Arquette, a local radio host serving as host of the event, addressed the gay marriage supporters interrupting the event.
"We do not hate you. We do not despise you," he said. "But we want to stand up for what we believe in."
Doug Mainwaring, a gay man and national tea party activist, told the crowd that "it is not homophobic to oppose same-sex marriage."
He said it's best for children when they have a mother and a father.
"Two men creating or engineering a family with children is not exactly the same as a family headed by a man and a woman," he said. "Kids need and learn from both a mom and a dad and they deserve to have them."
Republican Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes also spoke at the rally and discussed the state's battle over gay marriage.
He said some have criticized him for paying $300,000 for outside attorneys to help with their legal challenge.
"I do not believe this is a losing case," he said to a standing ovation.
A few hours earlier, about 300 supporters of same-sex marriage rallied at the Capitol steps, carrying rainbow flags and homemade signs with messages such as "Love is Legal" and "It's okay to be gay."
Speakers called for the recognition of same-sex marriages and attacked arguments made by their opponents that children do best with a mother and a father.
More importantly, children need a safe and supportive home, said Mark Lawrence, director of the group Restore Our Humanity, which is backing the legal challenge to the gay marriage ban.
"Marriage is the foundation of society. Yes, we agree with that," he said. "And that foundation will only be strengthened when it's built upon equality, decency and humanity."
Lawrence also addressed arguments made by opponents that recognizing gay rights is carving out special rights for one particular group.
"We are not asking for special rights," he said. "We are demanding human rights."
The opposing gatherings are the latest square-off over gay marriage, an issue that took Utah by surprise over the past month. More than 1,000 gay couples rushed to wed when a federal judge overturned Utah's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in late December. Voters approved the amendment in 2004.
Same-sex marriages continued in Utah until early January, when the U.S. Supreme Court granted Utah's request for an emergency halt to the weddings.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert then ordered state agencies to freeze recognition of the marriages.
The state has also appealed the federal judge's ruling to the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the case will play out in federal court this spring, it could eventually wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bob Henline, the assistant editor at QSaltLake Magazine, decried the spending of taxpayer dollars to defend the same-sex marriage ban.
Henline, one of the organizers of the rally supporting same-sex marriage, also called on lawmakers to approve a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation.
Last year, the proposal made it further than ever in the legislative process, but it ultimately failed.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, the Republican from St. George sponsoring the measure, has said he'll keep trying until it passes.
The bill is shaping up to be even more closely watched in the wake of the gay-marriage decision, with conservative groups running television advertisements opposing Urquhart's proposal.
Henline said if lawmakers don't consider the bill, it's "nothing short of moral and legislative cowardice."
Follow Michelle Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice .