photos by Julie Bolcer
Thousands demonstrated in front of the Manhattan Mormon Temple Wednesday evening to denounce the church’s anti-gay stances, then marched toward Columbus Circle to spotlight efforts to legalize gay marriage in New York.
NYPD officers on the scene placed Wednesday’s crowd between 5,000 and 7,000.
“This was the first significant street protest of some scale in a long time,” said gay activist Bill Dobbs, who compared the event to the political funeral for Matthew Shepard, the gay Wyoming teen murdered in 1998.
Carrying a banner that read “God Loves Gay Marriage,” the crowd took one hour to traverse from the Temple at 65th Street and Columbus Avenue to Columbus Circle. Demonstrators hovered on the northern part of the circle until the event concluded officially around 7:45 p.m.
Popular chants included “Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right!” and “Two, four, six, eight, we are sick of all the hate!” Among the demonstrators were Whoopi Goldberg and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, according to gay activist Corey Johnson, who helped spread word of the ad hoc protest through Facebook, e-mail and blogs.
“It’s a lot of veterans, and it’s a lot of new people,” said former ACT UP member Michelangelo Signorile, who organized the event along with Johnson and activist Ann Northrup.
He added that this Saturday will mark a national day of action with demonstrations at city halls, and that a town hall on gay marriage is planned for November 24 at the LGBT Center in the West Village
Signorile and Johnson said the Mormons have not responded to the protest.
The demonstration was part of a national surge of protest sparked by California’s gay marriage reversal.
Since Election Day, many gay rights supporters have targeted Mormons for their decisive role in the passage of Proposition 8, which overturned the state supreme court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage in May. Records show that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gave more than $20 million in individual contributions to the campaign to pass Proposition 8, part of a $73 million battle second in cost only to the presidential contest.
Organizers of the Manhattan demonstration aimed to show solidarity with jilted Californians, and to warn New Yorkers that a similar fate may await them.
“What happens in California, can happen in other places,” said Corey Johnson. “If the Mormon church can do this in California, then they can do the same in New York.”
While gay marriages cannot legally be performed in New York, Governor David Paterson issued a directive in May for state agencies to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. He also signaled that he would sign gay marriage legislation, which insiders call a priority for the new Democratic majority in the state senate.
However, in a press conference about the state budget on Wednesday morning, Paterson seemed to temper gay marriage expectations in light of the financial crisis.
“This is not a priority for the time being on our legislative agenda right now,” said Paterson. He was responding to a reporter’s question about whether pushing for gay marriage, which rogue Democrat Ruben Diaz opposes, might threaten cohesion needed to tackle economic woes.
Police were cooperative, even polite, toward the docile protestors. Spectators seemed to understand the basic message, although the intricacies may have been lost on them.
“From the signs, I would assume they’re against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage,” said one perceptive student polled on Broadway.
Inside the demonstration, participants parsed the significance of a term like “civil union” versus “marriage.”
“There should be no difference,” said Leia Thompson. “I think about my children and what I’m teaching them. I don’t want to be ashamed of my answer.”
Others expressed queasiness about the inevitability of wholesale gay assimilation, and questioned protest tactics that engage the Mormons on their own religious terms.
“The call us immoral, and so we say, ‘We’re moral’?” asked Dobbs. “Why not just flip them off?”