About 150 same-sex marriage opponents rallied at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, calling for the definition of marriage as the exclusive union of one man and one woman.
National Organization for Marriage officials, who organized the event and billed it as the finale to a series of similar rallies held this summer in locations across the country, focused on the group’s efforts to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law through a voter initiative.
“Let the people vote! Let the people vote!” chanted Bishop Harry Jackson, one of the speakers at the rally and the leader of a campaign to oppose D.C.’s same-sex marriage law. The D.C. City Council passed and Mayor Adrian Fenty signed that legislation in December.
The rally at the Capitol took place at the same time that a coalition of LGBT organizations staged an opposing event at Freedom Plaza, which is located about a mile away and next the John A. Wilson D.C. City Hall building, where the City Council passed the same-sex marriage law.
Organizers of the Freedom Plaza rally estimated that between 200 and 250 people attended that event. Among the speakers were D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), author of the same-sex marriage bill, and Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who headed the committee that guided the measure through the Council.
The groups that helped organize the Freedom Plaza rally included Equality Across America, Full Equality Now! D.C., and Talk About Equality.
“We know what this fight is about,” said Brian Brown, the National Organization for Marriage president, at the Capitol gathering. “It is about a profound love and respect for an institution that the government did not create … that brings together the two great halves of humanity, male and female, so that they can know and be known by — love and be loved by — any children that they may bear.
“And this, my friends, is something worth fighting for.”
Brown denounced U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker in California for overturning Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. Brown said he was nearly certain that a higher court would overturn Walker’s ruling.
But Brown noted, as have other same-sex marriage opponents, that a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage will be pursued if Walker’s decision is allowed to stand.
“If the worst-case situation were to happen, that this decision goes all the way to the Supreme Court and somehow five justices define out of thin air a right to redefine marriage, we still have the power to vote,” he said. “It’s called amending the United States constitution to protect marriage as a union of a man and a woman.”
Brown added that “the consequences are clear and profound when our children are taught in the schools that it’s the same thing for Jimmy to grow up and marry Johnny as it is to marry Mary, and that you, the parents, are bigots for teaching them otherwise.”
Jackson called same-sex marriage advocates “out of control radicals” and compared the tactics that some have used to the tactics of “intimidation” used by white supremacists in the South to oppress blacks during the 1960s civil rights struggle.
“What we’re experiencing is injustice American style,” he said. “A privileged minority with a whole lot of money and a whole lot of sway is basically saying to the rest of you, ‘You sit down. You shut up. Your opinion doesn’t count.’
“They’re willing to threaten us. They’re willing to talk down to us. They’re trying to intimidate us,” he said. “I’m here to tell you: Do not be intimidated. Enough! Enough! Stand up!”
At one point during his remarks, Jackson held up the book “Heather Has Two Mommies” and warned that it would used to teach children about same-sex marriage in the nation’s schools if opponents don’t rise up in opposition.
Other speakers at the Capitol rally included former D.C. congressional Del. Walter Fauntroy and D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robert King, who joined Jackson in calling on the city government to drop its opposition to a ballot measure that would allow voters to decide whether to keep or overturn same-sex marriage in Washington.
The city’s Board of Elections & Ethics has ruled that a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage cannot be held because it would violate a law disqualifying ballot measures that would lead to discrimination outlawed by the D.C. Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Two courts have upheld the board’s ruling. Jackson has said his side will appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
During the Capitol rally Sunday, about 40 counter protesters, including members of local and out-of-state LGBT groups, stood silently along the perimeter holding signs that called for same-sex marriage. At one point, a separate group of about 30 counter protesters marched briefly along the Capitol plaza near the steps of the U.S. Senate. One of that group’s members used a bull horn to express support for same-sex marriage. The group circled back twice before being escorted off of the Capitol grounds by U.S. Capitol police.
Among the counter protesters holding a silent vigil at the Capitol were Rev. Mel White, founder of the LGBT advocacy group Soulforce, which has dispatched its members throughout the country to hold similar vigils at National Organization for Marriage rallies in other states.
Two of the rally’s scheduled speakers — National Organization for Marriage co-founder and board chair Maggie Gallagher and same-sex marriage opponent Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr. — did not attend the event.
Members of the LGBT media appeared to outnumber reporters from the mainstream press at the really, with several LGBT bloggers engaging Brown and Fauntroy in interviews that devolved into heated debates.
White said Soulforce, among other things, challenges same-sex marriage opponents like Jackson on religious grounds, arguing that same-sex unions are consistent with Christian beliefs and theology.
“They come in the name of Jesus,” White said. “And I think it would break Jesus’ heart to be here and see them. If Jesus were here, he would be on the side of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Jesus was always with the outcasts. Jesus was an outcast himself … and we must show them that, being here, we will no longer take second-class standing in our own country.”