OAKLAND — Thousands converged on Oakland City Hall on Saturday morning to protest against the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California and to rally for equal rights.
The event was one of several protests around the Bay Area and the country organized to fight for civil liberties and to celebrate diversity. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples, families and their supporters spoke at the rally and shared personal stories about how they were affected by voters' passage of Prop. 8. The crowd was filled with peaceful protesters who carried signs and proudly waved American flags.
"I think as a community and across the nation people are standing up and saying, 'We are not going backward,'" said Molly McKay, spokeswoman for Marriage Equality USA. "We are only going forward and equality is a proud American tradition for our lives and for our families."JoinTheImpact.com, an online group aimed at making a positive impact on the LGBT community, their allies and their opponents planned the nationwide protests. Organizers said the goal was to demonstrate the joy and the grief they felt about Barack Obama, the first African-American elected president, and the defeat of ballot measures to deny same-sex marriage in California, Florida and Arizona.
Fifty-two percent of California voters approved Prop. 8. The proposition is a constitutional amendment, which bans same-sex marriage and overturns the state Supreme Court decision in May legalizing such unions.
"Since Proposition 8's victory, a series of protests against churches, small businesses and individual supporters of traditional marriage have taken place in cities across the state," said Ron Prentice, chairman of the Yes on 8 campaign, in a statement. "We will vigorously defend the people's will to enshrine traditional marriage in the state constitution."
Walt Santos, 57, of Oakland, participated in the protest with his partner of 17 years. He said they came to fight for their civil rights and to support their community.
"This is a new generation and change is happening," Santos said. "Obama represents bringing everyone together."
At the protest, the crowd was good-tempered and noisy. Loud chants — "Fight the hate, liberate the love," — rang out. Some people carried signs that read, "Support same-sex marriage in order to form a more perfect union," and "Another Christian for marriage equality."
Anti-8 protesters lined the downtown streets and drivers honked horns to show support. The event included a performance by American Indian drummers in honor of their two-spirit heritage of mixed gender roles. The crowd also sang "Singing for Our Lives," a song written by Holly Near after San Francisco's first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated 30 years ago.
Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland's newly elected and first openly lesbian council member, attended the event. She spoke about her sadness about the passage of Prop. 8 and her commitment to bring about change.
Kaplan roused the crowd by blowing a shofar, a ram's horn blown as a wind instrument in Biblical times. She said it represented a call for solidarity.
"This is not an end; this is the beginning," Kaplan said. "I know we can never stop seeking justice and it will require us to get deeper, more passionate and active."
Reach Kamika Dunlap at 510-208-6448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.