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7 arrested at V-Day marriage protest [18 February, 2009]

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When Proposition 8 passed in November 2008, it prompted a series of actions across the country and legal challenges in California.  On March 5, the California Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments against Prop 8.  In order to highlight the importance of the upcoming trial, Gay Liberation Network (GLN) and Join the Impact.

Chicago organized a Valentine’s Day action at the Cook County Marriage License Bureau, 50 W.  Washington.  This began with a traditional picket outside the building and ended with a sit-in inside that resulted in the arrest of seven marriage activists.

More than 300 people showed up at the protest at 11 a.m. on February 14 in downtown Chicago, holding signs and chanting during an initial picket outside 118 S.  Michigan.  One man, with a sign that said, “Obama, Don’t 4Get,” said that he was there because “ [w] e don’t the same protections that other couples have.  The unions that that we have are just as valid as heterosexual unions.”

Several speakers spoke to the crowd before and after it marched in a picket line up and up and down the pavement in front of the building.

Brent Holman-Gomez greeted protesters: “Welcome to the struggle.”  He went on to detail the benefits that, according to him, same-sex couples are denied over their heterosexual artners, including estate inheritance rights and social security benefits.

Holman-Gomez emphasized the symbolic value of holding the protest on Valentine’s Day.  Inside the Marriage Bureau, several straight couples had shown up to get their licenses, and at least one bride to be was dressed up in a formal full-length white gown.  Holman-Gomez said that the crowd of LGBT protesters was there to congratulate the straight couples but also to remind them that the right to marry was denied to same-sex couples.

Straight advocates spoke about the need for solidarity between heterosexuals and their LGBT friends who were unable to marry.  Missy Lorenzen declared that she would not marry until her gay friends were legally allowed to marry.  Gina Pantone said that, “As a straight ally, I’m here because I can no longer stay silent while millions of Americans are denied their chance at happiness, fairness, and stability; while families in California are being torn apart and having the validity of their relationships put up for vote.”

In between speeches, protesters marched with chants that included, “Obama, Obama, let Mama marry Mama” and “What do want? Equality? When do we want it? Now!” Different groups brought their perspectives to the table, although not all of them made their point completely relevant to the issue.  On the one hand, Cory, of the International Socialist Organization, spoke of the need for gays and lesbians to recognize “so-called gender-variant identity.  This is a part of our movement, as well as a united ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act].”  On the other hand, Prajwal Ciryam of the Chicago Single-Payer Action Network spoke at length about his group’s support for same-sex marriage.  However, his speech addressed mostly generalities about the need for healthcare for all and the need for change: “There is no institution that is too great for compassion, too strong for love, too proud and important for equality and respect.”

Andy Thayer of GLN spoke about the economic issues that, he said, faced same-sex couples in a recession.  According to him, “Hetero couples can take those [economic] rights for granted but we cannot.  Particularly in these hard economic times, we need equal rights.”  Thayer then announced that a group of protesters was already inside the building and participating in a sit-in to demonstrate for equal marriage rights.  The crowd followed Thayer inside the building.  Thayer later told Windy City Timesthat the seven who were arrested had “infiltrated” the building before the action.  Dale Fecker and Buddy Bell had gone up to the counter and demanded a marriage license.  Since Illinois does not grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, they were automatically denied.  The two, according to Thayer, then said, “We demand equality,” and all seven then staged the sit-in.

When the large crowd showed up at the door of the license bureau, all seven were seated on the floor, holding up signs and singing protest songs/hymns that included, “This little light of mine” and “If I had a hammer.”  Erica Chu, with a sign that said, “Your silence supports the status quo.  Speak Up,” told Windy City Timesthat she was “here to support equality.”  Nick Ferrin, holding a sign that said, “End Discrimination,” told the paper that he was there because, “Marriage is used to divide people into groups, into some people who can marry and some who can’t and that’s wrong.”  The others arrested were Dan Ware, Daniel Karczewfki and Jeff Graubart (who was arrested in the 1970s in a similar marriage protest).

In a subsequent update, GLN’s press release said that all seven were arrested at 4 p.m that day for criminal trespass, a Class C misdemeanor.  They were all released at 2:15 a.m. the next morning.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 18 February, 2009


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