Thousands of people marched peacefully through downtown Seattle on Saturday afternoon as part of a national protest of the California vote that banned gay marriage.
Marchers also took to the streets in Spokane, Tacoma and Portland.
Police and event organizers estimated the Seattle crowd at 3,000 to 6,000. Marchers of all ages, many accompanied by children and dogs, carried signs, colorful banners and a giant U.S. flag.
“The Church of Latter Day Snakes,” one sign said, pointedly aimed at the Mormon Church, which supported Proposition 8 in California. “You can’t stop love,” another sign said.
“The passing of Proposition 8 in a state where it was expected not to pass is cause for outrage and ignited the civil rights movement for the 21st century,” said event organizer Kyler Powell.
Courts in California legalized gay marriages earlier this year, but that decision was overturned Nov. 4 by the voter initiative Proposition 8. Massachusetts and Connecticut now are the only states to recognize same-sex marriage.
In Spokane, more than 100 people gathered outside City Hall to protest Proposition 8. KHQ-TV reported the rally was peaceful, but Spokane police were on hand, and rally organizers had received a threat while planning the rally.
Elsa Sjunneson, who spoke at and helped organize the Spokane event, said participants hope that talking about gay marriage at rallies and other large events will convince communities recognizing their unions is the right thing to do.
“We are here because we are rallying for the right to be recognized as equal citizens, not held to a different standard than the rest of the country,” she said in prepared remarks. “Equality should be a right, not a privilege.”
In Seattle, several politicians spoke to the marchers, who gathered at Volunteer Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood – the center of Seattle’s gay community – and then proceeded to Westlake Center downtown.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels called Proposition 8 “a hateful measure which should never have been on the ballot.”
Nickels told the crowd he had declared Saturday as “Marriage Equality Day in Seattle.”
King County Executive Ron Sims, an African-American, compared the quest for marriage equality to the fight for racial justice.
“It won’t be easy, but it will happen,” Sims said. “It will happen. We’re not tired – we’re just getting started.”
“The more people see we are normal and nice people the better our chances are at equality,” said one of the protesters, Laurie Cox, 35, of Seattle.
Her partner, 36-year-old Molly Metz, said the passage of Proposition 8 “gives the entire country the right to call us second-class citizens.”
“We need to show the world when one thing happens to one of us, it happens to all of us,” she said.
In Tacoma, about 150 people assembled for a rally at First United Methodist Church. They chanted slogans, held placards and waved flags as they marched between the church and nearby Wright Park.
Sherrie Orlob, a 57-year-old University Place resident who is active with the group Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, said she has been waiting for years for the opportunity to marry her partner.
“It was quite surprising, maybe shocking. I really thought the country had come further – especially in California, which is a fairly liberal state,” she said. “For me, I never thought this would happen in my lifetime anyway. Every step we take is a step forward. This was a minor step backwards.”
Brita Barry, who lives in Athens, Ga., was visiting friends in Tacoma and said she felt the need to support the gay community. She said she left West Germany in 1970 and worries about parallels between her native country’s past and the passage of Proposition 8.
“I left my country because it had such a dangerous and evil past,” she said. “I come to this country, and I find the same bigotry. And it horrifies me.”
Among the speakers at Portland’s rally was the city’s outgoing mayor, Tom Potter, the city’s former police chief whose daughter is a lesbian.
Potter joked that he was just “a warm-up act” for the mayor-elect, Sam Adams, who is gay.
He told the crowd that “we cannot stay home. We cannot stay silent. We cannot say this is acceptable in the United States of America – in any state.”
Oregonians have outlawed gay marriage, but the Legislature has approved civil unions with most of the benefits of marriage. Washington has a domestic partnership law that grants same-sex couples some of the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by spouses.
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