Downtown Experss photo by Donna F. Aceto (top), Downtown Express photo by Bill Bahlman (below)
As many as 10,000 demonstrators came to City Hall to protest against the California vote to ban same sex marriage and to rally for support in New York. Aidan Cassidy, top left, holding Shea and Charles Teti holding Nash at Saturday’s demonstration.
Facebook youth fuel gay marriage rally Downtown
BY ANDY HUMM
Just three days after 10,000 marched on the Mormon Temple near Lincoln Center to protest the passage of Proposition 8 — a campaign largely funded by Mormons — another crowd estimated at up to 10,000 assembled along Broadway adjacent to City Hall on Saturday to decry the elimination of marriage rights in California.
The gathering, which began at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 15, also pressed its demand that the New York State Senate pass Governor David Paterson’s marriage equality bill that got through the Assembly last year.
The City Hall protest was just one of 300 such simultaneous demonstrations in every state and several foreign countries conceived ten days earlier by Amy Balliet, a lone 26-year-old in Seattle, who, in the wake of the California defeat, put up the JointheImpact.com website to discuss the next steps to take. The website’s suggestion to mount a coordinated campaign of street actions was taken up aggressively by the gay netroots nationwide.
At first, activists in New York thought the call to come to City Hall on a Saturday might result in a few thousand people just milling around with their handmade signs. But a 17-year-old girl in Connecticut named Emma apparently took it upon herself to organize the New York action and was quickly overwhelmed with the response. Five young neophyte activists, none of whom had known each other, connected on Facebook and took up the challenge of giving some shape to the New York demonstration.
“We took the initiative,” said Evan Terry, 20, one of the lead organizers. “Every one of us is under 22.”
In his address to the crowd on Saturday, Terry asked for a minute of silence for “those who were married in California and had their rights taken away.” California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has opined that the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed during the five months it was legal are still legal, but that has yet to be adjudicated. The state’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has voiced agreement with Brown.
The five young organizers met each other at a Starbucks on Monday, November 10, hooked up with the leaders of Marriage Equality/NY and the Wedding Party, enlisted 150 volunteers through social networking sites, rented a stage and sound system, and secured a line-up of politicians, activists, and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus for a program.
Heath Tucker, 22, another of the lead group, said this action marked a “passing of the torch” to his generation of activists. Carrie Harrington, also with the five, said it was her first demonstration.
“Yes We Can!” and “Yes We Will!” were the most common refrains at the rally, picking up on President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign themes.
Balliett, who had married her partner in California prior to the elimination of that right, wrote, on her site, after the actions, “Last week, some felt angry. Last week, some felt defeated. Last week, some felt hopeless. Today we have shown the world that we will not be victims anymore! Today, our community has risen and shown our opponents that we are MUCH MORE THAN 1 MILLION STRONG! We brought the world’s attention to the outrage that is Proposition 8.”
California activists in London held up signs outside the U.S. Embassy proclaiming, “Proud of My Country, Ashamed of My State.”
The New York action was massive, but surprisingly orderly with demonstrators penned in by police barricades that gave them a long strip of sidewalk and one lane of Broadway from the tip of City Hall Park up five blocks to Chambers St. It featured an invocation by a minister and then the singing of the national anthem by the Gay Men’s Chorus, not the usual fare at L.G.B.T. demonstrations but also not something that seemed to bother the crowd, many of whom — like some of the organizers — were participating in their first public action of this kind.
Urvashi Vaid, former director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, recalled organizing 50 state actions for L.G.B.T. rights in 1998 and remarked on how “cumbersome” and long the process was pre-Internet. “It feels so amazing to know there is a new wave coming up and to see so many straight people a part of it,” she said.
There was some dissent. “It was a nice turnout, but the opening prayer and Star Spangled Banner were very telling as to just how conservative the gay marriage issue is,” said Bill Dobbs, a veteran gay and peace activist who favors civil unions for all and the separation of church and state. “I want equity for singles and unmarrieds.”
There were, however, no counter-demonstrators in New York as there were in Salt Lake City where this issue has reached a particularly high intensity over the involvement of Mormons in Prop 8’s passage. After the passage of Prop 8, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church issued a statement saying it “does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
In New York, the focus was on the Republican-controlled State Senate’s refusal to vote on marriage equality. And while it is hoped that the Democratic takeover of that body for the first time in 43 years bodes well for opening marriage to same-sex couples, Bronx Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., an anti-gay campaigner, is among three Democratic holdouts who have not yet given their support to the Democratic Senate leader, Malcolm Smith of Queens, to ensure that he becomes the majority leader in January.
Diaz has said he wants an assurance that either the same-sex marriage bill will not be brought to the Senate floor for a vote or that a statewide referendum be held on the question.
Gilbert Baker, who made the huge “GOD LOVES GAY MARRIAGE” banner for the Mormon Temple demo the previous Wednesday, made an equally large “NEW YORK LOVES GAY MARRIAGE” banner for Saturday’s event, though the police made him remove it from the City Hall Park fence.
“It’s exciting to see people out in the streets in such numbers,” said Tom Keane, an attorney and ACT UP veteran. “I hope it can be held together. I don’t know if it can without regular meetings.”
Several politicians took the stage to speak out for marriage equality, including lesbian Democratic Council Speaker Christine Quinn; her potential 2009 opponent in her Downtown district, Yetta Kurland; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, also a Democrat; and lesbian Democratic Assemblymember Deborah Glick of Lower Manhattan and the Village.
Also speaking was U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat running for mayor next year against Republican-turned-Independent Michael Bloomberg who did not attend, which was probably just as well since he led the city in successfully appealing the only positive ruling on marriage equality issued by a New York court. The mayor donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to keep the anti-gay majority in power in the State Senate.
“Anybody who thinks God hates gays,” Quinn told the crowd, “should look at the weather.” The rally was indeed preceded by a downpour that might have dampened turnout but did not, as the sun broke out by around noon. And it didn’t start drizzling again until the massive demonstration was over.