500 people attend Charleston marriage equality rally at U.S. Custom House

Supreme Court to hear Prop 8, DOMA cases this week

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Prop 8 Oral Arguments delivered Tuesday

About 500 people attended a rally for marriage equality on the steps of the U.S. Customs House last night. The Alliance for Full Acceptance, as well as other local and statewide LGBT organizations, political groups, and churches, hosted the event on the eve of arguments in two major U.S. Supreme Court cases.

The Proposition 8 case, which is being heard today, deals with marriage equality at the state level. Meanwhile, the Defense of Marriage Act case addresses federal rights and goes before the court tomorrow.

AFFA Executive Director Warren Redman-Gress says that more than 400 attendees signed cards in support of marriage equality that will be delivered to Chief Justice John Roberts, including one 79-year-old woman who walked to the Custom House from her home on Queen Street.

“She wore her red coat because she heard that you were supposed to wear red,” Redman-Gress says. “She said, ‘I just wanted to make sure that I got to sign one of those cards ... I’m just so glad that this is happening in Charleston.’”

People gather at the AFFA rally Monday
  • Courtesy of AFFA
  • People gather at the AFFA rally Monday

Redman-Gress estimates a good chunk of the crowd was made up of straight supporters, including couples and families. “It was a great affirmation of what we always believed, that we have a lot more support there than people give us credit for in terms of the straight community, but it was really one of those great signs that that was true,” he says.

Speakers included Rev. Dr Jeremy Rutledge of the Circular Congregational Church, Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Hricik, and the NAACP’s Dot Scott. In her speech, Scott pointed out that there weren’t many people in the predominantly white crowd who looked like her, but Redman-Gress believes that the NAACP’s support for marriage equality will help the LGBT community make in roads in the African-American community.

Victoria Middleton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, also spoke at the rally and will appear at similar events in Columbia and Greenville this week. The ACLU is representing Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in tomorrow’s DOMA case.

“[The rally] was emblematic of the fact that popular opinion has changed so greatly in a fairly short time,” Middleton says. “People feel very comfortable coming out as members of the LGBT community in Charleston, saying we’re here and we want the government to recognize that we have equal rights ... regardless of how the court rules, the momentum is there, and it’s only a matter of time before gay people will be able to marry in all states.”

Now the waiting game begins. While the Supreme Court is hearing arguments over the next two days, their decision most likely won’t be made until June.

“Several people last night asked what happens if they rule against it, and I really do believe that even if they did — which I don’t think they’re going to, I think they will stand with the movement toward equality,” Redman-Gress says. “But even if they did, I am really encouraged by the kind of groundswell that we’re seeing across the country from people in support of marriage equality.”

Still, Redman-Gress admits he is nervous, since there are so many complex ways that the court can rule. He’s also interested to hear what questions are being asked by the Supreme Court justices.

“These rulings really have the potential to be life changers,” he adds. “It’s not just a nice thing to have. Marriage — socially, economically, legally — changes our lives. I think there are a lot of people hanging on these two days of questions and answers and waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

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