The National Organization for Marriage brought its national road tour to Atlanta on Saturday, but once again, supporters of the group that fights against gay marriage were vastly outnumbered by a counter-protest for LGBT equality.
The lopsided numbers were typical for NOM’s “Summer of Marriage” tour, which has drawn low attendance on other stops as well. In Atlanta, only about 35 people — including their speakers, performers, volunteers and the media — converged in front of the state capitol.
Across the street on the sidewalk in front of Central Presbyterian Church, close to 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.
Gene Vineyard of Carrollton, Ga., was one of the few who turned out for the “Summer of Marriage” rally who was not already affiliated with NOM.
Photo by Laura Douglas-Brown
Vineyard, who said he learned about the rally through an email from Focus on the Family, held a sign that read “With God Marriage Works 52 ½ years.”
“I think this is just critical,” Vineyard said, when asked why he braved the heat to stand on the steps of the state capitol. “I’m so disappointed more people didn’t show up.”
Vineyard said he is motivated to defend “traditional marriage” for the sake of his young family members.
“I have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren,” he said. “I hate to think what it will be like for them when they are my age. It scares me.”
In an interview, NOM Executive Director Brian Brown attributed the low turnout to supporters possibly being intimidated by the possibility of facing counter-protesters. NOM has claimed pro-gay picketers have 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” — during which they held hands, cheered and sang along.
In addition to NOM’s Brown, speakers at the group’s rally included Dr. Alveda King, head of King for America, and Tanya Ditty, leader of the Georgia chapter of Concerned Women for America.
King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., claimed that redefining marriage would lead to “extinction” and called it “genocide.”
King also spoke of her family’s commitment to strong marriages, including her uncle and “his lovely wife.” She did not mention that Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife, spoke out in favor of gay marriage on several occasions and was a speaker at Atlanta’s Gay Pride festival in 1996.
In a speech that quoted the Bible frequently, Ditty urged the few NOM supporters who attended the rally to fight against “government-imposed counterfeit marriage by any name.”
She argued that protecting marriage is necessary to protect children, and cited a list of statistics about “children who aren’t raised by a mom and a dad,” including that they are “20 times more likely to end up in prison.”
“I say it is time that we the people stand up and make clear we will not stand by and let marriage be redefined,” she said.
Asked the source of the statistics in an interview after the rally, Ditty said they came from remarks by President Obama. She also acknowledged when questioned that the numbers dealt with children being raised in single parent households and were not specific to children being raised by gay parents.
According to multiple media reports, Obama has cited the statistics — which refer to children being raised by single mothers — in speeches calling for black fathers to be involved in their children’s lives.
Brown concluded the rally by calling on the few attendees to sign up for NOM’s newsletter and spread the group’s message, and called their cause a “civil rights movement” akin to the fight against slavery and racial discrimination.
“We are building an army of two million activists across this country. We are already at 750,000,” Brown said. “They may not be here today but they voted during Proposition 8 … and even if they are not here they are here with us in spirit, and you can take it back to your community.”
Before the rally, Brown said the Prop 8 ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker this week has only inspired the movement for marriage to be between a man and a woman.
“Obviously our supporters are charged up,” he said. “Judge Walker’s outrageous decision now nationalizes the same-sex marriage issue. Now you are going to have a serious push for a federal marriage amendment.”
While Georgia already has a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, NOM’s stop in Atlanta was important now because of Walker’s decision.
“We’ve been told this false bill of goods from day one with the state constitutional amendments — that it’s all over when you pass a state constitutional amendment. Walker’s decision doesn’t just pertain to California,” he said. “It would overturn the overwhelming majority of votes of Georgians and in every state.”
Love + Commitment = Marriage rally at Woodruff Park
LGBT activists and allies gathered at Woodruff Park for a “Love + Commitment = Marriage” rally before marching to the state Capitol to hold the mostly silent counter-protest of the National Organization for Marriage.
More than 100 people listened to numerous speakers at the rally, including several families sharing stories about why marriage is important to them.
Patti Ellis, mother of two sons, including one who is gay, stole a line from the Sarah Palin playbook and compared herself to a “grizzly mama” who will not let anything come between her and her children.
“I want my son to have the same rights that his younger brother has,” she said.
“I don’t understand Prop. 8,” she said, referring to the ballot measure that halted gay marriage in California. Last week, a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional, although the case is being appealed.
“Truth only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived ideas. And that’s what I say to every mom and dad out there — give up your preconceived idea of what a gay marriage is. Stand up for your gay child,” Ellis said to cheers and applause.
Rev. Paul Turner of Gentle Spirit Christian Church said he and his partner have been married for 28 years.
“And the reason I make that distinction is because, as a pastor, folks, it doesn’t really matter what people at the Capitol are saying today. If you love your partner and are committed to each other, in the eyes of God you are married. This debate is what about we deserve as Americans,” he said.
Monica Helms, a transgender woman, said the debate over gay marriage also impacts the transgender community. She and her female partner are in a committed relationship that deserves to be recognized legally, Helms said.
“We are accepted by the people who love us the most. We want to be married too,” she said.
Kathy Kelley, executive director of MEGA Family Project, told the crowd she and her wife, legally married in Massachusetts more than 5 years ago and together for 12 years, hope their marriage is one day legally recognized in Georgia.
“I can’t tell you how much more it means now that we have a child to have our marriage respected like all families. I feel good. I know we’re in Georgia and we have this crappy amendment … it’s coming guys. We’re going to get it. Equality will prevail,” she said.
Andrew Cullenaine and Carl Boswell, of Manchester, England, were in Atlanta “on holiday by default” because bad weather kept their flight from continuing to England Friday night. Both are gay, and while walking around downtown Saturday, they came upon the rally at the park.
“We stumbled across the rainbow flags,” Boswell said. “And I said let’s join in. There’s a big thing in our country about civil ceremony. It’s not equal to marriage so people are calling it sexual apartheid and there was a big push during Pride this year —it’s different and we don’t want different, we want equality.”
The men said they knew about the Prop 8 repeal and thought the fight in the U.S. was interesting compared to what’s happening in their homeland.
“I hope you don’t accept civil partnerships like we did so easily. I think you should carry on and fight for equality,” Boswell added.
The rally and counter-protest were organized by Atlanta’s Queer Justice League — Rick Westbrook, Jeff Schade and Art Izzard — as well as MEGA Family Project and Georgia Equality.
(Photos by Laura Douglas-Brown)