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Fight for gay marriage

March 12, 2004 | Page 11

LAST WEEK, gay and lesbian rights activists turned out to demand "Equal marriage--now!" In New York City, more than 500 people turned out to city hall on March 11. While supporters rallied outside, chanting "Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right!" dozens of same-sex couples lined up to apply for marriage licenses.

In Chicago, hundreds rallied outside the Cook County Building to demand same-sex marriage licenses, as a handful of antigay bigots picketed across the street. The bigots, carrying signs such as "Turn or Burn," taunted gay and lesbian protesters. But they were greatly outnumbered, and when gay-marriage protesters marched through the building to the marriage license bureau, they were met with applause from county workers.

Jacob Reitan stood in line next to a fellow Northwestern University student whose sign read, "1967: Interracial marriage. 2004: Gay marriage. It's about time." "I was in San Francisco last weekend, and the spirit there was like nothing I'd seen before," Reitan told Socialist Worker. "We're finally standing up for full and total equality."

After gay and lesbian couples were refused licenses, protesters marched to the offices of Cook County Clerk David Orr, where they were barred from entering. One protester--Debora Mell, the daughter of a local alderman and the sister-in-law of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich--was arrested when some protesters attempted to block traffic. Afterward, Blagojevich told the press that he loved his sister-in-law, but disapproved of gay marriage.

Protesters vowed that they would be back the following week--and this time, Orr should be ready to meet their demands. "This is just a first step," protester Brian Kearney told Socialist Worker. "I think that the more visible and the more active we are about the issue, in time we'll have it. We have to be persistent."

In Washington, D.C., some 2,000 people turned out March 3 for a rally organized by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in response to Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. HRC executive director Cheryl Jacques got the crowd going with an angry speech attacking Bush for saying that gay marriage is a "national emergency," stressing the real emergencies of jobs, health care and war. But she, along with other speakers, fell silent on fighting for gay marriage now.

This event underscored the opportunity and challenge facing those who want gay marriage. Bush and his bigot allies have "awakened a sleeping giant, have touched off a new civil rights movement," as the speaker from National Organization for Women put it.

But the groups that aim to represent gays in this fight are lagging way behind the crowd. We have to take the momentum and focus it on winning gay marriage in D.C. now!

In Boston, activists are planning to protest at the statehouse to put pressure on state lawmakers to vote against a gay marriage ban at the state constitutional convention beginning March 11.

In Seattle, on March 8, 200 people rallied in the Capital Hill neighborhood to demand gay marriage. The rally was called by a Seattle gay couple four days before, and news of it spread through e-mail and by word of mouth. "We've been together for seven years. We've already had a commitment ceremony," said Alex Martin and Freya Wormus. "We shouldn't have to go to San Francisco or Portland to get married."

In Providence, R.I., 200 people came out to a Campaign for Marriage Equality rally at the Rhode Island statehouse to support bills legalizing same-sex marriage in the next legislative session. Activists dropped a two-story-tall banner listing dozens of marriage rights currently denied to same-sex partners. A petition calling on Providence to issue same-sex marriage licenses--initiated by the ISO--has gained around 300 signatures and the endorsement of the Queer Alliance at Brown University.

In San Francisco, 100 people filled the Bethany United Methodist Church on March 6 to attend the Socialist Worker-sponsored panel, "Separate Is Not Equal!" "We have to be prepared for a big struggle," said Howard Wallace of Pride at Work and the San Francisco Labor Council. Kathryn Lybarger of the ISO remarked, "There's a lot of possibility out there, and, if we organize it right, we can win it."

Jeff Bale, Brian Cruz, Laura Durkay, Ed Hernandez, Darrin Hoop, Shaun Joseph, Chris Mobley and Elizabeth Schulte contributed to this report.

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