SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City's gay pride parade has been going for decades, but never have participants and attendees had so much to celebrate and such a bright future to look forward to.
A federal judge struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban in December, leading more than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples to marry. That ruling is on hold pending an appeal, but advocates are optimistic that the Denver appeals court will uphold the decision and allow Utah to join a growing list of states where gay marriage is legal.
On Sunday, an estimated 10,000 people gathered for the downtown parade in a jubilant celebration of dance music, rainbow flags and countless signs and shirts showcasing this year's theme: "Love equals love." The parade featured the longtime signatures of gay pride parades: drag queens, scantily clad men in speedos and women in bikinis, but it also featured dozens of corporations and mainstream organizations marching in the parade and hundreds of families with small children watching.
Susanna Cohen and her husband came with their 1-year-old daughter, who gleefully watched the parade wearing a rainbow jumper.
"We believe in equality for everyone," said Cohen, 35, a midwife. "We want our daughter to grow up in a world where everybody is treated as equal and allowed to love whoever they want to love."
Wanda Brown came with her two daughters, 5 and 14, to support her married gay friends and to continue teaching her kids about diversity. "They need to know that it's not just white bread society, that there are all different kinds of people," said Brown, 44, adding she wants them to know that, "People should be allowed to marry whoever they want."
Utah has become one of the focal points for the gay marriage movement since the December ruling, which triggered a string of similar rulings by judges in other states. The latest came Friday in Wisconsin, the 15th consecutive pro-gay marriage ruling in lower court cases since a landmark Supreme Court ruling last summer.
The parade marshals Sunday were the three couples who brought the lawsuit against Utah, one gay couple and two lesbian couples who have become mini-celebrities in Utah. They were followed by a float carrying many of the 1,000-plus same-sex couples who married after the ruling, and before the U.S. Supreme Court put the ruling on hold pending the appeal.
More than 125 organizations, businesses and religious groups marched in the parade, with some of the loudest cheers going to a pair of Mormon groups who marched for the third consecutive year. Nearly 400 members of Mormons Building Bridges walked in their Sunday best.
The group's goal is to encourage members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make their congregations and homes safe and welcoming places for gay and lesbian people, said spokeswoman Erika Munson.
Dave Brunetti, a 55-year-old gay man who was born and raised in Utah, stood and marveled as the group went by. "Awesome," he said, while clapping, "That was amazing."
"There are a lot of Mormons, Catholics everywhere that are starting to pay attention to their own consciences and less and less to their high up leaders," Brunetti said. "Saying: 'You know what, I need to do what's right for my own heart.'"
An estimated two-thirds of Utah's 2.9 million residents belong to the Mormon church, which has its worldwide headquarters in Salt Lake City. The Mormon church's official stance toward gays and lesbians has softened in recent years, but the church still opposes gay marriage and teaches that homosexuality is a sin.
There were a few anti-gay protesters at the parade, including one man who stood on the corner holding a biblical sign and engaging in shouting matches with marchers.