November 16, 2008 / 12:51 AM / 10 years ago

Gay marriage supporters rally across United States

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Thousands of gay marriage advocates held boisterous rallies on Saturday across the United States and abroad in a coordinated protest of California’s vote this month to ban same-sex marriage.

In Manhattan, where some protesters were offering hula-hoop demonstrations, Sean Petersen, 21, a musician from Brooklyn, called the vote “mean-spirited and divisive.”

In Chicago, Andy Thayer, a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, exhorted a crowd that had listened to a gay men’s choir sing a peppy version of the hymn “Down by the Riverside” to follow through on the spirit of the protest.

“We can’t just let this be a blowing-off-steam rally, as satisfying as that might be,” he said. “We’re here to win equal marriage rights right here in Illinois.”

Demonstrations had been organized for Saturday afternoon in the United States and elsewhere, including Canada, Europe and Australia, coordinated by a campaign on the Internet.

Los Angeles police estimated 8,000 attended, and thousands filled the central plaza in San Francisco. Other cities had crowds estimated in the hundreds or low thousands.

“I am here to protect my marriage and my family,” said 39-year-old Susan Ferris at Los Angeles City Hall.

On November 4, California voters narrowly approved Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It reversed the right of gays and lesbians to marry that had been granted by the state’s Supreme Court this year and triggered a series of protests.

“A turning point has been reached,” landscape architect James York, 45, said at the San Francisco rally.

$70 MILLION CAMPAIGN

Measures to ban gay marriage also passed in Florida and Arizona, while Arkansas barred gay couples from adopting children.

In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages. Last month, Connecticut became the second when the state’s top court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage.

The California measure passed by 52 percent after one of the most expensive ballot campaigns in history in which both sides combined raised some $70 million.

Gay marriage advocates have asked the California Supreme Court to overturn the ban, arguing that more than a majority vote is needed to make a fundamental change in the state constitution. In May, the court had declared same-sex marriage a right, unleashing a flood of weddings.

The rallies drew a few opponents of gay marriage.

“We’re troubled by the intolerance on their side about what obviously is the will of the American people,” Peter LaBarbera, a board member of Protect Marriage Illinois, told Reuters. “We think they represent the minority viewpoint.”

Despite the setback in the country’s most populous state, gay marriage advocates said they were upbeat about their cause in the long run.

“History is on our side,” said Ferris in Los Angeles.

Reporting by Chris Michaud in New York, Matthew Lewis in Chicago, Nichola Groom in Los Angeles, Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Xavier Briand

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