WASHINGTON – Tens of thousands of gay rights activists marched Sunday in Washington to show President Barack Obama and Congress that they are impatient with what they consider piecemeal progress and are ready to fight at the federal level for across-the-board equality, including for the right to marry and the right to serve in the military.
Key votes on same-sex marriage are coming up in Washington, D.C., and Maine, and Obama promised Saturday to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forces gay and lesbian members of the armed forces to keep their sexual orientation a secret.
But organizers of the National Equality March and participants said they want to shift the political effort toward seeking equality in all states, rather than settling for local and state-level victories.
“We’re not settling,” said Cleve Jones, co-chairman of the march and founder of the Names Project, the AIDS memorial quilt that recognizes Americans who have died from HIV/AIDS. “There’s no such thing as a fraction of equality. We want equal protection under the law.”
The march was coordinated by Equality Across America, a group that formed this year. Organizers said they represent those who want immediate fundamental change in the legal status of gays, as opposed to those who think patience is needed as legal obstacles are overcome.
Some in the latter group are political veterans, such as U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the highest-ranking openly gay political figure in the United States, who last week said he thought the march was “useless,” a remark that was attacked at the rally.
“How many more tears should be shed before some politicians in a back room can decide it is convenient to join us and fight for our freedom?” asked David Mixner, a longtime activist who spoke at the rally.
Attendees expressed complicated feelings about Obama. Nearly every person interviewed said he or she had voted for him, but many said they were disappointed by what they see as a lack of action on key gay rights issues, such as letting gays serve openly in the military.
The march occurred at a critical time for the gay rights movement, with a president who has vowed to fight for equality and Democrats in control of Congress.
Obama pledged Saturday night at a fundraising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign that he would end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but he provided no specifics on how he would do it. Many gay activists said that they are tired of waiting and that he should immediately move to repeal the military’s policy and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Sue Null, 72, walked near the White House holding a sign that said “My Gay Children Deserve Rights.” The retired teacher said she traveled nine hours from Brevard, N.C., with dozens of others to represent children who were too busy working to make the trip. Of her four children, two are gay, she said.
“Every parent wants their children to have opportunities,” she said. “But that’s not what our government is about. I’ve seen nothing from the Obama administration.”