On Sunday afternoon, as the first day of same-sex marriages were certified at the city clerk’s office, thousands of protesters marched from the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 3rd Avenue office to the United Nations.
The protest was organized by the National Organization for Marriage, and it brought together a diverse group of opponents — every race, religion, and ethnicity was represented — but one that was often at odds with itself.
The slogan was “Let the People Vote,” referring to N.O.M.’s call for a public referendum on same-sex marriage, and speeches were given in both Spanish and English.
“We have Jewish people here, we have Afro-American people here, we have Latino people here,” said State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., the lone Democrat to vote against same-sex marriage in the state Senate. In his speech, he emphasized the power of multi-racial unity and understanding in fighting for Christian causes.
Christ Covenant Coalition leader Joseph Materra said that “division in the body of Christ” was to blame for the legalization of gay marriage. “One of these divisions is that we come together through ethnicity instead of through Jesus,” he said. “I believe it’s time we unite!” he shouted.
But each group seemed to have its own unique message.
Heshie Freedman, Associate Director of JPAC carried a sign that said: “Today man marries man. Tomorrow man has civil union with his dog. Followed by man marrying his dog. Mazel Tov!”
Rabbi Mordechai Weberman’s sign read: Homosexuality is Why God Sent AIDS to Punish Male Gays. “It’s a correct assumption,” he said.
The challenge for the organizers was to try to keep the loose coalition on message. Maggie Gallagher, cofounder of the National Organization for Marriage, said that anyone preaching a message of hate or divisiveness did not belong in the protest.
But it was not an easy thing to police.
A contingent from the Westboro Baptist Church carried a variety of inflammatory signs: “Fags are Worthy of Death”, “Remember Lot’s Wife”, “Fags Are Beasts”, “God Hates Your Feelings”, and “Thank God For 9/11.” (“We made them ourselves,” one member proudly told The Observer.)
Margie J. Phelps, a Westboro member, wore a shirt that said “JewsKilledJesus.com,” and said she resented that Jews — who “taught this nation to sin” — protested alongside her. “We came to New York from Kansas today to tell Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg they have doomed the state and the city,” she said. “Repeal that legislation, repent, and obey.”
The National Organization for Marriage has said that it will try to reverse same-sex marriage by defeating legislators who voted for it, and stocking the legislature with lawmakers committed to undoing the decision.
Others held out hope for some kind of referendum.
Mariza Frei also questioned the legitimacy of the state legislature’s decision. “We are going to vote on marriage,” she said. “Supposedly the decision was already made, but I don’t want people making decisions for me — I would like to make my own decisions.”
“It’s a loss of religious freedom and religious rights in America,” said Edgar Munez.
Senator Diaz hoped to stem the tide through the courts.
When Diaz, who wore a cowboy hat with “I [heart] Jesus” on the rim, spoke with The Observer, he seemed particularly concerned with the mayor’s decision to open the clerk’s office today. “I came to let the mayor know that what he did today is wrong,” he said. “It is illegal.” He said he has lawyers working on whether the mayor is in violation of the law, and he intends to take legal action if possible.
Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force came to protest the protesters. “We need to be clear that fundamental rights should never be put up to a vote because democracy exists to protect the minorities from the potential abuse of the majority,” he said. “There are some folks that say they speak for Latinos. I am a Latino, and 58 percent of Latinos support marriage equality, and Ruben Diaz does not represent the Latino community.”
When a woman honked her horn and gave the finger to the crowd as she drove by, the protesters booed and hissed. “Such a rude radical,” one protestor commented to another. “So many ignorant people in New York!”