Anti-Gay Rallies as NY Marriages Begin

by George M. Walsh

Associated Press

Monday July 25, 2011

Thousands of opponents of gay marriage took to the streets in loud and sometimes tense protests Sunday, the first day that legal same-sex weddings were performed.

The National Organization for Marriage held rallies in New York City, Albany, Rochester and Buffalo, saying Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers redefined marriage without giving voters a chance to weigh-in, as they have in other states. Protesters chanted "Let the People Vote!" at rallies across the state.

A rally in New York City that started with several hundred people crowding the street across from Cuomo's Manhattan office quickly swelled to thousands of people out in loud opposition to the new law.

They waved signs saying "Excommunicate Cuomo" and "God cannot be mocked."

Cuomo campaigned in support of gay marriage, which he called a basic human right, then lobbied the Legislature hard ahead of its historic June 24 vote to legalize it.

The first gay marriages in New York were performed just after midnight and continued through the day at municipal offices that opened for special weekend hours, making New York the sixth and largest state to recognize same-sex weddings and becoming a pivotal moment in the national drive for recognition.

Outside the capitol in Albany, about 400 people gathered in a park in the shadow of the state Capitol for a protest they said was political, but had a strong religious thread and featured signs that included a banner with the familiar "Marriage(equals)Man and Woman" message topped with a fluttering "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

A mix of congregants and clergy from local black churches, a tea party contingent from Norwich and other small groups including families, they lined up and sang "Our God is an Awesome God" as they started a march that circled the massive seat of state government in the largely empty downtown.

Tre' Staton, pastor at the Empire Christian Center in suburban Colonie and an organizer of the protest, said he lobbied lawmakers in the run-up to the New York Senate vote and was frustrated they passed a law he doesn't believe many people support, particularly in the black community.

"We're not against anybody, but we don't want this imposed on us," he said, stressing the National Organization for Marriage's theme for the rally. "We're looking for a referendum, an opportunity to have our fair say."

New York City protesters and others across upstate chanted "Let the people vote!" referring to referendums that have succeeded in stalling or repealing gay marriage in other states. New York does not have an easy way for voters to bring a measure directly to the ballot box, meaning such a maneuver to repeal gay marriage here will be difficult.

"I'm here for God's sake," said Steve Rosner, 65, of the Lower East Side. "To sanctify same-sex marriage is an abomination. It's beyond belief."

Around 3:30, the protesters started marching uptown toward the United Nations. By the time they reached the UN, the crowd numbered in the many thousands, filling up 47th Street. They were joined by a brass band as a stage was set up for speakers.

State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a minister who was the sole Democrat to vote against gay marriage, told the crowd that he and other opponents would try to get Sunday's marriages annulled, saying judges broke the law by waiving the 24-hour waiting period without a good reason.

"We're going to show them next week that everything they did today was illegal," he said, speaking in Spanish. "Today we start the battle! Today we start the war!"

Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, said his group of churches would fight against Cuomo's re-election.

Jewish protester Heshy Friedman carried a pig mask "because the law's not Kosher." He said he worried that Muslim groups might push to legalize polygamy next.

In Buffalo, a few hundred people gathered on the steps of City Hall. Church leaders did most of the speaking while protesters chanted "Let the people vote." Some held Bibles and others prayed on rosaries with their heads bowed.

"If it had been put to the people it wouldn't have passed," said JoAnn Tomasello, who was also in the crowd. "It's not what the people want."

Police led one counterprotester away in handcuffs after he apparently refused to stop videotaping police, although it wasn't clear that's why he was taken into custody.

Another counterprotester, Dan McKowan of Lancaster, got into a shouting match with demonstrators as he held a sign mocking the National Organization for Marriage, which organized the rally.

"Why are you denying me the same rights you enjoy?" McKowan asked.

"We love you," several protesters replied.

"If you love me, why would you fight against my civil rights?" McKowan said.

Associated Press writers Chris Hawley in New York City and Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo contributed to this report.

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