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'Modern Family' actor Ty Burrell headlines fundraiser to fight Utah's gay-marriage ban

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SALT LAKE CITY - "Modern Family" actor Ty Burrell says he sees gay marriage in the United States is a "tide that can't be turned."

Burrell headlined a fundraiser Thursday evening in Salt Lake City to help cover legal costs for couples fighting Utah's ban on same-sex marriage, lending his celebrity to help a group backed by sitcom co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

"It's really a tide of people understanding that love is love, and that there's no going back," Burrell said in the downtown clothing store he partly owns. He drifted among chambray shirts and chandeliers to take pictures with plaintiffs and mingle with attendees. About 100 people came to the event.

Ferguson, who plays one half of the ABC hit's gay couple, founded Tie The Knot with his real-life husband, Justin Mikita, in 2012.

At the event, they sold a bow tie designed by Burrell, featuring vintage road maps of his native Oregon for $25. Bartenders mixed Moscow mules, a signature cocktail at Burrell's Salt Lake City speakeasy-style bar called Bar X.

Ferguson said he and Mikita are "not the type of guys that are going to be out with the bullhorns going, 'equality now.' We do it through humour, we do it through fashion."

Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, one of the couples bringing the lawsuit, knew of Tie the Knot and pitched the fundraiser idea to Burrell.

"You would be surprised at how many people are eager to put what they can on the table and support us here, so it's really great," Kitchen said.

In December, Burrell served as the official witness to an unplanned lesbian wedding at his bar when same-sex marriage was briefly legal in Utah.

"It was such an exciting few days," he said.

Thursday's event comes as gay marriage advocates wait for a federal appeals court in Denver to decide whether Utah's same-sex marriage ban is constitutional. A federal judge overturned it in December.

Utah has become a focal point for the gay marriage movement since then, followed by a string of similar rulings by judges in other states. The latest came in Wisconsin, marking the 15th consecutive ruling supporting gay marriage since a landmark Supreme Court ruling last summer.

In Utah, Burrell told The Associated Press, "I think a lot of people need some time to breathe and think about" gay marriage. He characterized the state's dominant Mormon community as "loving" and "level-headed."

"Even if they don't agree with something, hate isn't really a part of the way in which they behave. They're a very tolerant group," he said.

When Ferguson's character, Mitch, married his gay partner on "Modern Family," many saw it as yet another sign of widening acceptance for gay marriage in the U.S.

"That was a huge moment for all of us," Ferguson said, referring to the cast. "Nobody aspires to be a domestic partner. You aspire to be a wife or a husband. You aspire to marriage."

Born and raised in Oregon, Burrell lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, a Utah native, when he is not in Los Angeles filming "Modern Family" or working on other projects.

He has said he feels much like a "Salt Laker."

Laurie Wood and Kody Partridge, who wed in Utah in December and also brought the lawsuit, said they're glad they get to be involved in bringing marriage equality to Utah.

"We said, this is our state, this is our home, this is where we want to be wed," Partridge said. "Six months has been wonderful."

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Follow Annie Knox at https://twitter.com/anniebknox and Brady McCombs at https://twitter.com/BradyMcCombs .

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