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Hundreds protest gay marriage ban in bay area

Gary Luter talks with Dave Simanoff, left, and Britt Shirley, right, Saturday afternoon at Joe Chillura Park in Tampa. Simanoff and Shirley were recently married. Luter attended their reception.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR | Times

Gary Luter talks with Dave Simanoff, left, and Britt Shirley, right, Saturday afternoon at Joe Chillura Park in Tampa. Simanoff and Shirley were recently married. Luter attended their reception.

TAMPA — About 300 people gathered at Joe Chillura Park for an impromptu gathering that evolved into a full-blown rally with catchy signs, chanting and speeches from local leaders.

"We're here to make sure that promises are kept," said R. Zeke Fread of PRIDE Tampa Bay. "They said it wouldn't affect existing domestic partnerships, including those of the elderly."

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, GaYbor District Coalition president Carrie West and Hills­borough County Democratic Party vice chairwoman Pat Kemp were among the speakers addressing the crowd.

"It was really inspiring to hear from someone who has been married to their partner," said Liz Brown, 39, a social worker who hung around waving signs at motorists with friends after the event. "This is our chance to be more active instead of just observers."

As a child, Yasmin Jones was raised on stories of the civil rights movement and the racist legal structure that preceded it, when segregation was legal and many states outlawed interracial marriage.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed her family's life, she told a St. Petersburg crowd of more than 200 gay activists and supporters Saturday, but as a black lesbian, she still doesn't have the same rights as most Americans.

"They say we seek to redefine marriage, but I think they are redefining discrimination," Jones, 19, told the cheering crowd at Mirror Lake. "I don't know about you, but I am not going to let them cut and paste the word black for gay."

Waving American flags and signs that read "we the people means all of us" and "love is a civil right," supporters in St. Petersburg aimed to cast marriage inequality as the new civil rights movements as part of a nationwide protest Saturday against same-sex marriage bans.

Crowds gathered near public buildings in small communities and major cities including New York, San Francisco and Chicago to vent their frustrations, celebrate gay relationships and renew calls for change.

Planning for the nationwide protests was started by a Seattle blogger just days after a California vote that took away gay marriage rights that had been granted by the state's high court. Florida and Arizona overwhelmingly passed similar measures on Election Day.

The idea rapidly spread online.

In St. Petersburg, a mosaic of young, old, black, white, straight and gay chanted "we want equality" and "undo 2," a reference to the Florida constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

"Our fight for marriage equality is not about shutting down other people's religious beliefs," said activist Karen Doering. "Our families deserve the same rights, the same protections as every other family. If that's not a civil rights issue, then what the hell is?"

Dawn Willey and Donna Cochran were married in California in September, when it was still legal. Now, the St. Petersburg couple aren't sure they will even be sent their marriage certificate.

"My whole life I always thought what's the big deal? It's just a piece of paper," said Cochran of legal marriage. "But it felt different. It was moving. It was incredible, and our children were so happy for us."

Democrat George Gonzalez, a failed candidate for House District 54, lamented what he described as the religious right's invasion of government.

"This goes to the core of separating church and state, make no mistake about it," said Gonzalez, a heterosexual. "You cannot take away people's constitutional rights simply by having a vote."

Hundreds protest gay marriage ban in bay area 11/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 20, 2008 8:06pm]
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