YouTube got Augustus Romain Jr. to Federal Plaza on Saturday.
The young Oak Parker, soft-spoken yet resolute in his national views, made the trip into the city this weekend to stand up for Chicago’s part in the 12:30 p.m. nationwide protest against California’s recent same-sex marriage ban.
“When I saw the ads that folks in California were hit with about harm to kids and schools and families, and I thought California voters didn’t have the real view of what was at stake with this,” Romain said referring to TV spots for what’s called Prop 8.
Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative, amended that state’s constitution, restricting the definition of marriage to “a union between a man and a woman.” The referendum passed Nov. 4 by less than five points, overriding a previous California Supreme Court decision that found marriage to be a “fundamental right” for all couples. Proposition 8 is already the subject of four lawsuits, and will be weighed again by the California Supreme Court.
“We were completely blown away by how many people showed up,” said Missy Lorenzen, an event organizer who responded to the national call made by Join the Impact, an Internet-based marriage rights organization established in Proposition 8’s wake.
The Office of Emergency Management and Communications estimates more than 2,000 demonstrators gathered at Dearborn and Adams; Lorenzen and other attendees say it was closer to 4,000.
The backlash to the Proposition 8 vote is galvanizing the gay rights movement across the country. Demonstrations were held Saturday in more than 100 U.S. cities; in Chicago, participation far exceeded expectations.
Demonstrators waved signs reading “Stop the H8,” “Demand equal marriage now” and “I’m not a second-class citizen.”
“If it stands as it is in California, then we probably have a smaller chance of having it passed here,” Lorenzen explained. “But if we get it overturned in California, we can look towards them as a leader, an example.”
Romain, who moved to Oak Park in January from a part of Georgia where religious fervor often runs high, expresses concern that churches paid for many of the California ads against gay marriage. He also voices frustration with the process overall.
“It was rude to bring this to majority vote. Civil rights gains for women and African Americans were made on the hills of Congress, not by majority vote. Blacks might still be slaves if their rights were up to majority vote,” Romain said.
Bob Schwartz, a veteran member of the Gay Liberation Network who lives in Edgewater, says that although the final decision rests with California courts, the kind of public pressure exerted Saturday could affect their ruling. “When people join with others in a demand for justice in an unjust society, things happen,” he said at the rally. “This is the history of struggle in the United States. This is what advanced the struggle for women for African Americans, for workers, for many others.”
State Rep. Greg Harris (13th) is hoping the demonstrations will help galvanize support in Illinois for the Civil Unions Act, which he introduced in the House of Representatives last year. HB 1826 would extend state-level legal protections and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples in Illinois. According to Harris, it would provide the same rights, responsibilities and obligations of marriage at the state level, but would fall short of being called “marriage.” It also would not be recognized by the federal government.
“Its great that you are here today,” Harris told the crowd, “but Monday, get on the phone, call my colleagues in Springfield-the people who have to vote for marriage equality in Illinois-and tell them that you demand that they vote ‘yes.'”
After the demonstrations, Harris said that the he and the bill’s co-sponsors, which include Reps. John Fritchey (11th), Sara Feigenholtz (12th) and Harry Osterman (14th), are “very close” to having enough support to pass the bill in the House. He said they are waiting until they reach critical mass before sending the bill to the floor for a vote.
If the bill passes both chambers, Illinois would be the ninth state in the country granting legal civil unions and domestic partnerships for same sex couples. It would be the first in the Midwest.
However, to some demonstrators, that isn’t enough.
“Civil unions is a good place to begin, but not to end,” said Bob Zuley of Lake View, who was one of the first to arrive at Saturday’s rally. “That marriage equality, and equal military service and adoption will be achieved is inevitable. But it is a struggle.”
Massachusetts and Connecticut, which began same sex weddings last week, are the only two states that currently allow gay marriage.
Zuley said he was disappointed to not see more elected officials at Saturday’s demonstration; but he was encouraged to see so many straight allies joining the movement.
Some gay and lesbian couples at the rally, who were married in California, echoed Zuley’s sentiment, emphasizing the importance of marriage.
Mark Joslyn, a Los Angeles deejay who flew to Chicago with his husband and father to attend Saturday’s demonstration, said he married his partner of ten years on July 10, and would have done it earlier if he could have.
“My mother wanted to see us get married, but she passed away on June 3… We’re here in her honor,” he said. “When they tell you this will hurt innocent families, you should tell them how they hurt our innocent families.”
Following a permitted two-hour rally, the crowd took to the streets, temporarily bringing Michigan Ave. traffic to a halt in an impromptu, unpermitted march. A newly married couple climbed out of a stretched limo, in a bridal gown and tuxedo, and briefly joined the demonstration, taking pictures with the crowd.
No arrests were made, but Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network was issued a ticket for parading without a permit. The ticket could carry a fine of up to $1,000 and up to ten days in jail. He will appear before a judge on Feb. 4.