The Daily Reflector
Saturday, November 15, 2008
About 35 people gathered in front of Greenville City Hall on Saturday afternoon to protest voter passage of California's Proposition 8, a referendum that reversed a state supreme court ruling allowing gay marriage.
“California was one of a handful of states that allowed gay marriage until this referendum was passed,” said Nikole Hotaling, one of the protest organizers.
The protest was one of hundreds held across the country Saturday, organized by a group called Join the Impact. Organizers set up the demonstrations to protest the passage of the California law, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The Associated Press reported that organizers estimated protesters in 300 cities in the U.S. and other countries were holding marches, including an estimated 1 million people.
While Hotaling was focused on Proposition 8 on Saturday, she also expressed concern that the North Carolina legislature is trying to pass a similar bill, saying that marriage is strictly for a man and woman.
“Not long ago, a black person couldn't marry a white person,” she said. “We want equality for everyone and don't want the word redefined.”
The group protested peacefully and without incident, displaying signs and flags representing gay pride. They sang songs of protest, led by Georgia Winfree, of the group Someone's Sister, then marched together along Fifth Street where an occasional passing car honked in response.
Angela Williams, a military veteran and Hotaling's partner, said the demonstration was about more than Prop 8 marriage rights.
“Nikole and I can't be on each other's insurance policies or own a mortgage together, because we're a same-sex couple,” Williams said. “We have to file separate tax returns. It's not simply about marriage, but about equality across the board.”
She said she would like the government to acknowledge that there are gay Americans, and that they deserve the same treatment as straight couples.
“Marriage is a commitment made between two people in love who want to be life partners, regardless of sex,” Williams said.
The main obstacle to legalized gay marriage, Williams said, is organized church opposition, which she believes is based on stereotypes and bigotry and should have no part in politics.
“The more power and influence a church has on people's lives, the more they see gays and lesbians as a threat to that power,” Williams said.
The act of taking away a right that was given to gays in California stung Williams as an African-American, she said.
“In one day, African-Americans took one step forward and two steps back when Barack Obama was elected president and Prop 8 was passed,” she said. “Fifty years ago, blacks could not marry whites, according to state laws. Now, it's not just black folks having their civil rights taken away, but people of all races.”
The California repeal of gay marriage rights affects people in North Carolina, protester Cindy McCraw said.
“It's important for gay people everywhere to have equal rights. We are Americans. What's right for each American is right for all Americans,” McCraw said.
Rebekah Burke worried that, if marriage rights can be taken from gays, other rights could be taken as well, including the right to have children.
“A person's sexual orientation should not prevent them from enjoying the same rights as every other American,” she said.
Rabbi Steve Kirschner, a gay rights advocate, said one major obstacle is the fear people have of those who are different from them.
“The God I believe in makes no distinctions among human beings, no matter who they are,” he said. “In a world that needs more love and less hate, we ought to find ways to bridge the gaps rather than make them deeper.”
Kirschner's friend Ted Weil joined him as a show of solidarity. Although he is not gay, the action of a vote to take people's rights away in California particularly disturbed him, he said.
“This time it's gay rights. Next time it could be something else. I'm old enough to remember when they passed laws somewhere saying Jews couldn't be lawyers or own property. Where did that lead?” Weil asked.
There was no police presence at the demonstration, nor were voices raised in opposition to the demonstration, which ended peacefully after about 90 minutes.
Contact Michael Abramowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or (252) 329-9571.