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Utah's same-sex marriage supporters celebrate Supreme Court decision

SALT LAKE CITY — "I never thought I would see this day."

That's what Bruce Bastian, Human Rights Campaign board member, said Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the nation.

Bastian spoke during a news conference where Utah-based LGBT organization leaders gathered to celebrate the decision.

In the crowd, same-sex couple Colleen and Jolene Mewing were handed rainbow-colored tissues to wipe their eyes. They wore "Marriage Equality U.S.A." T-shirts, which Jolene Mewing said they've worn for the past two years as they've fought for the movement as Salt Lake City activists.

"I think this is the last day we'll have to wear these shirts," Jolene Mewing said.

Later that evening, several hundred people gathered dowtown at City Creek Park to celebrate the 5-4 ruling. Music blared from speakers as supporters of same-sex marriage embraced each other and tried to stay cool in the June heat. Live songs were also performed, and LGBT community advocates gave brief remarks.

Derek Kitchen, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark Utah lawsuit that led to gay marriage bans being invalidated by judges throughout the country, told the Deseret News that Friday’s Supreme Court decision represents a “sea change” in government policy and public opinion over the past several years.

"Hearts and minds have not only changed, but changed permanently. … It’s very lovely to know that Utah of all placed led the charge on this,” Kitchen said.

But an equal society remains an ideal to strive for, Kitchen said. He said it is time for Utahns to focus on other groups he believes have been marginalized, including the needy and homeless.

"We have to turn inward and look at the communities falling through the cracks,” Kitchen said.

Karen Crist, who serves on the board of the Utah LGBT advocate organization Restore Humanity, said her fellow organizers have been confident gay marriage legalization was inevitable since the Supreme Court struck down federal restrictions on the institution in 2013. When federal judges began throwing out same-sex marriage bans, Crist said, she and her friends “saw the writing on the wall."

"There’s no doubt that Utah being nationally in front has influenced the trend as well as today’s decision,” she said.

Brother Millard Cook of the Episcopalian Church said he attended the rally to represent the Christian community’s support of marriage equality. He compared Friday’s ruling to the fall of the Berlin Wall — something he originally thought he would never see in his lifetime.

"This is the time so many in our church have fought for, for years and decades,” Cook said. "We’ve been willing to be under fire, to pay the price, and it wasn’t easy."

Friday morning, state Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, pumped his fists, calling the decision a "great moment for Utah" and quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, who said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

"Today, we are at justice," Dabakis said.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said Friday marked a "bold step forward," but the LGBT community still has progress to make to achieve full legal equality, from federal workplace and housing protections to strengthening Utah's hate crime laws.

"The more difficult work is to actually eradicate fear, prejudice, and bias. Those continue to exist," Williams said. "So we have a lot of work to do. Just because you achieve it in court, it doesn't mean hearts and minds open."

Karen McCreary, American Civil Liberties Union of Utah executive director, said the LGBT community still faces a list of issues, including lawsuits still in progress regarding same-sex parents' rights, as well as social discrimination.

"We really have so much to do in our schools to protect our children against bullying and the incredible pain and loneliness they may still feel," McCreary added.

Jolene Mewing said work to "change hearts and minds" will probably continue for decades to come, but Friday was a huge triumph.

"Today we celebrate our victory," Colleen Mewing said, "and tomorrow we continue moving forward with all of the work that remains to be done."

While many community members and leaders expressed disappointment with Friday's ruling, Dabakis said he's confident Utahns will move forward with poise.

"I know what Utahns are like in their soul," he said. "We love family, and we are respectful and civil. Together we are going to build an example of what a great community can be."

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com, blockhart@deseretnews.com