Across the street on the sidewalk in front of Central Presbyterian Church, about 300 people gathered with signs supporting marriage equality for gay couples. The “counter witness” followed a rally earlier at Woodruff Park for same-sex marriage supporters.
The NOM protest was among the most poignant I have covered in my 14 years as a journalist in the LGBT press.
To be certain, other protests targeted more dire or pressing issues, like the bombing of the gay Otherside Lounge, or the 2004 state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The NOM tour came to Atlanta as gay marriage was already banned in the state, and was not tied to any specific pending legislation or other crisis.
And I have attended plenty of gay rallies that drew larger crowds, from Pride parades to marches on Washington.
What made the NOM protest so inspiring was the huge contrast between the two sides — in message and numbers — and the clear implication that in the battle for hearts and minds, we are winning.
Those who turned out to support love outnumbered those who turned out to deny it by a margin of approximately 10 to 1.
In an interview, NOM Executive Director Brian Brown attributed the low turnout to supporters being intimidated by the possibility of facing counter-protesters. NOM had claimed pro-gay picketers harassed its members in other cities.
Organizers of the Atlanta counter-protest specifically instructed participants to remain quiet during the NOM rally so they could not be accused of being disruptive.
They mostly followed the recommendation, except when a NOM entertainer sang an ode to “unity” — including a call to “spread love” — during which they held hands, cheered and sang along.
The impromptu sing-along was a perfect, moving moment.
Apparently, it wasn’t only pro-gay attendees like me who thought so.
“We are building an army of two million activists across this country. We are already at 750,000,” Brown said at the rally.
Now he’ll have to lower his grossly inflated tally to 749,999.
Last week, Louis Marinelli, the NOM strategist who conceived the tour, effectively defected, penning a blog about how he now supports civil marriage for gay couples.
As Marinelli discusses in an interview on Page 5, the turning point for his conversion to, as one commenter called it, “the right side of history” came right here in Atlanta.
“If my transition from opponent to supporter of same-sex civil marriage was a timeline, Atlanta would be indicated by the first point on the line,” he wrote on his blog.
We often refer to Atlanta’s “LGBT community.” In reality, we are not one community, but many LGBT communities, often in conflict with each other about which issues should be our focus, what strategies we should use to pursue them, and which organizations or people should speak for us.
The rally and counter-protest were organized by Atlanta’s Queer Justice League, MEGA Family Project and Georgia Equality — three organizations that don’t always use the same approaches to our common fight for equality. They were also attended by many who had no prior affiliation with any of those organizations, but who didn’t want NOM’s anti-gay road show to go unanswered.
But instead of arguing amongst ourselves, which too often derails our progress, we all spoke out — and our many voices joined in one message.
Louis Marinelli heard us loud and clear.
Slowly but surely, the rest of the world will too.
Top photo: Louis Marinelli says Atlanta’s counter-protest to the ‘Summer for Marriage’ tour made him start rethinking his opposition to gay marriage. (by Dyana Bagby)