News

Hundreds Rally For Gay Rights At Washington Square Park

Supreme Court To Hear Arguments On Two Key Cases This Week
Gay Rights Rally in Greenwich Village March 24, 2013 (credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

Gay Rights Rally in Greenwich Village March 24, 2013 (credit: Jim Smith/WCBS 880)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Elected officials joined hundreds of demonstrators in Greenwich Village on Sunday afternoon for a march and rally for gay marriage rights.

The march began at the famous Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street – the site of the 1969 demonstrations against a police riot that is often credited with starting the modern gay rights movement. The marchers continued eastward to Washington Square Park, where the rally was held.

The demonstration comes as the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on two cases this week.

On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments on Hollingsworth v. Perry. That case is a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a referendum that voters adopted in 2008. The state constitutional amendment banned same-sex marriages, in the first-ever instance of marriage rights being taken away in a state where they were already legal.

The following day, the justices will hear extended arguments in United States v. Windsor. The case is the legal challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The 1996 law defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies same-sex couples federal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last October, ruling that the law violates equal protection. A federal appeals court in Boston last year also found it unconstitutional.

President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996, but he is now against that law. He sides with those who will argue on Wednesday that because it treats same-sex couples differently, it’s unconstitutional.

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry said the issue was one of constitutional rights, CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported.

“These are important questions for families and individuals to decide, and the freedom to marry is one of the precious freedoms we cherish and gay people, like non-gay people, deserve under the Constitution,” Wolfson said on CBS News’ Face the Nation.

As WCBS 880′s Jim Smith reported, Anne Kirchoffer and her wife, who attended the Sunday rally, will also be paying close attention to this week’s U.S. Supreme Court hearings.

“It’s a bit scary to think that nine people have our fate in their hands,” Kirchoffer told Smith. “I cross one state border and all of a sudden I’m not married any longer.”

Another couple, Marianne and Drea, told 1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten they want to have the same rights as straight couples nationwide.

“It’s an important fight to be part of, because it affects us, and then all the generations that came before us; everyone that’s going to come after us,” Marianne said. “And when we have kids, we want our family to be equal just like everyone else’s family.”

While gay marriage is legal in New York State, most states do not recognize it, and Drea said that should change.

“It should be, plain and simple, because we all deserve equality under the law,” Drea added.

Jill Cohen and Judy Halaby married three years ago and have two children.

“I’m realizing today that it is important for me as a parent, because I don’t want some day somebody to tell my kids who they can marry,” Cohen said.

Gay married couples say further that under DOMA, they miss out on hospital visitation rights, tax benefits and access to a spouse’s Social Security if they die.

Another demonstrator, Tim Hare, has been with his now-husband for 37 years, but lives in Pennsylvania.

“Probably for me, the most important week of my life as an American citizen,” Hare told Smith. “We are targeted by the federal, state and local governments for prejudice and discrimination.”

“We just want the same rights as everyone else. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” one demonstrator told Smith.

“The feeling is cautious optimism,” said another demonstrator.

Among the elected officials at Sunday’s rally were state Sen. Thomas Duane, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell. Actor Tituss Burgess also attended to voice his support for gay civil rights.

Meanwhile in Washington, there was already a line Sunday outside the U.S. Supreme Court, where spectators are eager to grab seats and witness what is sure to be intense debate.

Speaking to the Chicago Phoenix LGBT publication this weekend, Chicago gay rights activist Andy Thayer explained that the Supreme Court could rule in one of three ways in two Supreme Court cases. The court could rule in favor of the bans, leaving them unchanged; it could narrowly rule against the bans and suggest a state-by-state approach to gay marriage rights; or it could strike down both DOMA and Prop 8, Thayer told the Phoenix.

Thayer told the publication, “As a community, we have to send them the message that we won’t accept anything less than that.”

But supporters of the ban insist each state should be left alone to decide the hot-button issue.

“The big question going before the Supreme Court is whether or not the Supreme Court should impose a 50-state solution upon this entire country regarding the debate surrounding marriage,” said Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom, speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said the issues surrounding equality under the law can be addressed without a Supreme Court ruling.

“I think the way to fix it is maybe to try to make all of our laws more neutral towards the issue, and I don’t want the government promoting something I don’t believe in,” Rand said. “But I also don’t mind if the government tries to be neutral on the issue. You know, the tax code — I’m for a flat income tax, and we wouldn’t have marriage as part of the tax code. Health insurance — I think there is a way to write it where it would be neutral and you wouldn’t bring marriage into the whole idea of health insurance.”

Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.

The demonstrations in favor of national recognition of same-sex marriage Sunday came on the same day as a crowd people protested for the opposite cause in France.

The opponents clashed with police as they pushed onto the Avenue de Champs-Élysées in Paris, to protest legislation recently passed by the lower house of the French parliament. The legislation would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

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