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Photos by Candice M. Giove.
When State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz ascended the stage at an anti-gay marriage rally Sunday in front of Governor David A. Paterson’s midtown office, he tried to put the fear of the God-fearing flock that stretched for several city blocks into him and his fellow politicians.
They pray and they vote.
The Bronx Democrat’s threats resounded on Third Avenue between 40th and 35th streets, where an estimated 20,000 of the Tri-state area’s devout decried the move to legalize marriage for all of New York’s citizens at a rally sponsored by Radio Vision Cristiana International and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization.
The state senator hoped that the crowd’s numbers provided testimony to his strength to several colleagues sitting on the fence, now that their body will likely vote on the bill, which Governor Paterson proposed in April. The Assembly last week approved the legislation – after four hours of emotional debate – which led to the 89-52 vote.
Diaz (above) shamed the Hispanic assembly members who voted in favor of the bill. He bellowed their names and the crowd perfunctorily responded with boos.
“They smacked us and don’t respect us,” Diaz yelled of those who supported or plan to support the bill.
“Tengo cuidado,” he later warned.
The speakers, mostly clergymen or religious organization leaders, carried similar messages of condemnation for New York State’s politicians.
Rabbi Yehuda Levin, Union of Orthodox Rabbis and the Rabbinical Alliance of America, joined the Hispanic clergy members in their threats to primary politicians who vote to alter the definition of marriage.
“I want to say to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver: You’re an embarrassment as a Jew,” he yelled, following up with a vision of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presiding over a gay marriage at Silver’s synagogue.
Levin also fretted that same sex marriage would open up the floodgates to a more expansive concept when he spoke to this reporter. “When they have the next movement that they want to have multiple wives or the next movement to marry their daughters will the Village Voice support that also or do they draw the line at homosexuals,” he asked. “How far will the Village Voice go?”
For the clergy members in attendance, many believed that altering the definition of marriage would impinge on their rights. “Religious freedom does not encroach on the civil rights of people,” explained Rev. Daniel Delgado, the New York and New Jersey regional director of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference. “People choose to live how they choose to live and that’s their right, but marriage was not instituted by a governor. It was instituted by God.”
For the thousands in the crowd that point could not be debated. And as the event started and Bible-clutching attendees flowed from Grand Central Station to pens positioned along Third Avenue, many let a group of counter-protestors at 42nd Street know just how they felt.
“This is the word of God,” said one woman as she pressed her Bible close to those supporting gay rights. “We’re praying for you,” one anti-gay marriage protestor shouted at that crowd. Another man wagged his finger at them.
Daniel Choi (pictured above), who was discharged this April from the National Guard for being openly gay, came out to support Governor Paterson. “He’s a man of character,” he said. “He’s someone who history is going to remember. He stood up for the right policies and the right thing.”
The soldier stood at the edge of the gate and extended his hand to those en route to the anti-gay marriage rally. “Some of us are Christians too and we’re capable of love and we could love them back,” he said.
Though the counter-protestors numbered few, organizers there expected many more to come out to a rally scheduled later in the evening sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda and Broadway Impact, featuring State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The anti-gay marriage rally lingered for hours and worshippers listened as speakers reiterated over and over that marriage should strictly apply to men and women. And while these are words heard in churches – organizers estimated over 3,000 congregations arrived – Leslie Diaz, the state senator’s wife, warned parents to monitor what is being taught in the city’s public schools.
“These kids are being taught that two mommies are okay; that two daddies are okay; that they could choose whatever sex they want to have a relationship with is okay,” she said. “You must be vigilant and you must be aware. Do not trust the Board of Education.”
Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, who voted against the bill last week, also upheld the sanctity of marriage and instead said he favored civil unions. “We all have love for gay people. This is not about prejudices against people who are gay,” he said.
Benjamin said that Governor Paterson’s bill would not reflect his colleagues’ actions. “I think it would not behoove the governor and his allies to go forward with the vote in the State Senate knowing that it will be resoundingly defeated,” he said.