At March, Gay Rights Activists Push for Nationwide Equality

Gay rights groups are pressuring President Obama to deliver on the promises he made to the gay community, such as repealing the defense of marriage act. Bill Plante reports.
By Nelson Hernandez and Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 12, 2009

Tens of thousands of gay-rights activists marched Sunday in Washington to show President Obama and Congress that they are impatient with what they consider piecemeal progress and are ready to fight at the federal level for across-the-board equality, including for the right to marry and the right to serve in the military.

Key votes on same-sex marriage are coming up in the District and Maine, and Obama reiterated his campaign promise Saturday to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that forces gay and lesbian members of the armed forces to keep their sexual orientation a secret.

But organizers of the National Equality March and its participants said they want to shift the political effort toward seeking equality in all states, rather than accepting just local and state-level victories.

"We're not settling," said Cleve Jones, co-chairman of the march and founder of the Names Project, the AIDS memorial quilt that recognizes Americans who have died from HIV- or AIDS-related causes. "There's no such thing as a fraction of equality. We want equal protection under the law."

The march was coordinated by Equality Across America, a group formed this year. Organizers said they represent those who want immediate fundamental change in the legal status of gays, as opposed to those who think patience is needed as legal obstacles are overcome.

Some in the latter group are political veterans, such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the highest-ranking openly gay political figure in the United States. Last week, Frank said he thought the march was "useless," a remark that was attacked at the rally.

"How many more tears should be shed before some politicians in a backroom can decide it is convenient to join us and fight for our freedom?" asked David Mixner, a longtime activist who spoke at the rally.

Attendees expressed complicated feelings about Obama. Nearly every person interviewed said he or she had voted for him, but many people said they were disappointed by what they see as a lack of action on key gay-rights issues, such as letting gays serve openly in the military.

Thousands of people marched from McPherson Square, a few blocks from the White House, down Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting "President Obama: Let mama marry mama!" and "L, G, B, T -- We demand equality!"

Marchers carried signs reading "We Won't Wait for Full Equality" and "Mind Your Own Marriage." Spectators watched from the street and the roof of the Newseum, many cheering the participants. As the march ended about 2:30 p.m., people gathered on Capitol Hill for a rally.

Many supporters identified themselves as heterosexual, carrying signs with such slogans as "I'm Not Queer But I'm Here."

Organizers seemed surprised by the turnout.

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