When Mark Lawrence heard that a federal judge in California had overturned that state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, he had an immediate reaction: This could happen in Utah.

Gay marriage was legal in Utah from Dec. 20, 2013 until a stay on weddings was issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, Monday. More than 1,000 marriage licenses were issued in Utah before the stay.

Of course, most people thought Lawrence was nuts. 

California is a blue state, Utah the reddest of reds. California has one of the nation's largest gay and lesbian populations with some 98,000 same-sex households, Utah has one of the smallest at 3,900. California is, well, California. Utah is Mormon central.But the 57-year-old Lawrence was undaunted, even when national gay rights groups didn't take him seriously and local groups took a “wait and see attitude.”

“It was kind of difficult to get them to pay attention to what we were doing,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence began having “what if?” conversations with friends in July 2011, as California's legal fight over Proposition 8 continued its march through the courts.


While religious and conservative factions in Utah were an obstacle, Lawrence said the real challenge he faced was apathy.

“That was the hardest to overcome,” he said. “I've never been one to accept apathy. I don't like it.”

So he kept talking and meeting, talking and meeting. And soon he was convinced he was on to something.

In February 2013, Lawrence formally set up Restore Our Humanity for the sole purpose of staging a legal challenge aimed at toppling Utah's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

And he began searching for a legal team willing to take on the David v. Goliath legal fight, exchanging emails with several attorneys and having at least one conversation with a lawyer that went “nowhere.”

Then, he met with two attorneys at Magleby & Greenwood in Salt Lake City. Within five minutes, Lawrence said he knew James E. Magleby and Peggy A. Tomsic were the perfect fit.

“It was magic,” he said of that two-hour conversation. “They were very driven. I thought, 'This is it.'”

Lawrence is perhaps an unlikely candidate to be at the forefront of the gay community's effort to topple Amendment 3, Utah's ban of same-sex marriage.

He is an information technology specialist with the Unified Fire Authority's emergency center and lives at home with his elderly parents. Lawrence moved in with his parents a couple years ago to help care for his father, who is in the later stages of Alzheimer's disease.

“I don't have much of a life outside of that,” he said.

Lawrence came out to his family in the late 1970s, when he was 17.

“I've got a great family and parents who always showed great support,” he said.

His past political experience consisted of protesting Anita Bryant, a former orange juice spokesperson who in the '70s led an anti-gay movement, and being a delegate at a Democratic Party convention.

Six years ago, a bout with lung cancer rousted Lawrence from his own state of apathy.

“When you go through that, you look at things differently,” he said.