Same-sex Sunday was anything but a day of celebration for the groups that remain adamantly opposed to gay marriage, and whose protests collided in midtown in the afternoon. A rally organized in part by the National Organization for Marriage, but where the main draw seemed to be State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., perhaps New York’s most vocal opponent of gay marriage, collided with two smaller but slur-hurling groups — a five-person contingent from the Westboro Baptist Chuch, and a few dozen members of the Williamsburg Satmars.
Just a month after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s same-sex marriage bill, the NOM march aimed at de-legitimizing the new law by calling for a popular referendum on the issue. Diaz told the Voice after the rally that New York and the five other states with same-sex marriage have it only “because a judge or a legislature imposed it” — suggesting that only a popular vote could validate the change.
NOM’s rally got off to a shaky start as a crowd estimated at the event’s end by police at more than 3,000 supporters, most of them black and Latino, gathered by Governor’s Cuomo’s office in Midtown within shouting distance of the penned-off area holding the very white Westboro members who’d flown up from Kansas in the hopes of drawing press attention.
“We denounce you,” yelled Joseph Mattera, the presiding bishop of the Christ Covenant Coalition, senior pastor of Resurrection Church, and an organizer of the rally. The WBC fired back with chants of “priests rape boys.”
The Westboro group had spent much of the day at the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Bronx marriage boroughs firing insults at same-sex couples and their supporters. NOM, on the other hand, made a point of holding their rally away from those locations.
“We are particularly not protesting in front of where people are getting married,” the group’s chairman of the board, Maggie Gallagher, told the Voice. “The goal is not to disrupt or protest an individual decision ceremony, it’s to protest what the government in Albany did without the vote of the people.”
“We had advance notice that Westboro Baptists might try to join our march and we want to make it clear that that kind of message… is loathsome and not welcome here,” Gallagher added in a subsequent interview.
But while rally organizers announced they would not permit any anti-gay signs, a few crowd members nonetheless displayed them, including at least two with drawings representing men having intercourse along with hostile slogans. The rally was also joined by the Satmars, who for the most part kept some distance their Christian comrades, while offering signs comparing homosexual marriage unfavorably to murder, and suggesting it made mother-son incest inevitable — if not mandatory.
One sign, from the “Jewish Political Action Committee,” read: “Today man marries man / Tomorrow man has civil union with his dog / Followed by man marrying his dog / Mazel Tov!”
Mattera said that when he has led previous rallies he hasn’t allowed any posters, and that he “should have stopped” the leaders who disagreed with that stance.
Only a handful of pro-same-sex marriage voices were on the scene to counter the protesters. A group of about 10 that had spent much of the day countering the WBC were in a pen across from them, and Pedro Julio Serrano, communications manager for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, was giving interviews while a helper circulated press releases from New York Latinos United for Marriage Equality.
The Let the People Vote group began marching uptown around 3:20 p.m., at least an hour after they had begun to assemble, but came to an abrupt halt when it reached 44th Street: Diaz had arrived, to a tremendous round of cheers.
As they approached their final destination on Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, where speakers blasted “Glory, Glory Hallelujah,” several people in the crowd, many of whom were gentiles, blew shofars, and a martial brass band brought up the rear.
While NOM’s preferred message was “Let The People Vote,” chanted over and over again by the crowd, the other anti-same-sex-marriage marchers accented that refrain with cries of “Jesus!” The most popular signs were far from secular: “God Cannot Be Mocked,” and “God Doesn’t Change His Mind” — the latter sentiment directly conflicting with the idea of a referendum to settle the matter. Many in the crowd carried Bibles, raising them as they walked.
The speeches at the rally were mostly political, despite the many religious leaders who spoke at it, with speakers keying in on what they portrayed as a usurpation of the popular will by the state’s elected officials. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, told the crowd: “Governor Cuomo, in the next election, you are out.”
When Diaz finally took the microphone — speaking through a translator — he said he would prove through legal action that officials broke the law by allowing same-sex couples to bypass the 24-hour waiting period usually required after getting a marriage license.
“We are going to show them next week in court that everything they are doing today is criminal and it’s wrong,” the translator shouted.
Both he and Gallagher, in an earlier interview, said that Republicans who voted yes on the same-sex marriage had been paid off.
“Bloomberg paid thousands to people to vote,” Diaz told the Voice after the rally, referring to the four GOP state senators who backed the bill, and later received maximum, $10,300 contributions from the mayor.
The odds of a referendum, though, are slim, especially since elected representatives and the governor passed the law. While Gallagher framed Let the People Vote as an 18-month campaign culminating at the polls in 2012, Mattera predicted the effort would take at least two years.
Harry Siegel contributed to this article.