In this national mecca of both homosexual activism and everyday in-your-face politics, the annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade on Sunday took on a decidedly militant bent following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down state anti-sodomy laws.
Not content with merely enjoying the same rights in the bedroom as heterosexual couples, parade organizers said a theme to the parade was achieving the right to marry -- which some believe will be the next big showdown over gay rights.
Among the throngs that lined Market Street in the city’s financial district were posters declaring “Hooray For Sodomy” and “We All Deserve the Freedom to Marry,” while parade participants chanted “Gay Power!”
But like participants in parades in other large cities Sunday -- including New York, Atlanta and Seattle -- the San Francisco marchers took a moment to simply celebrate Thursday’s landmark ruling, which voids anti-sodomy laws in 13 states, and could bring other sweeping changes to the way gays are treated in the public sphere.
“Today, all of us feel just a little more pride, a little more empowerment in [being] gay,” said William McGregor, 31, one of about 750,000 at the San Francisco parade. “What the Supreme Court did this week certainly is not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
In New York, Leslie Hathcock, 42, said it was just nice to bask in the celebratory atmosphere.
“It feels good to be out with everyone after the decision, and to know that I’m not alone, and that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of gay people in this country that have struggled for years,” said Hathcock, who manages a restaurant in Arlington, Va. “I think that’s what the parade is all about.”
In the wake of the court’s 6-3 ruling, some experts predict the national debate over gay marriages and domestic partnerships will intensify. But California has been struggling with the divisive issues for years.
Though state voters passed a proposition banning gay marriage in 2000, a bill currently under consideration by the Legislature, AB 205, would extend many of the rights of marriage to domestic partners -- be they gay or straight. Among other things, it would allow them to file joint state tax returns.
The bill, which has passed the Assembly, is currently in the Senate. Since Monday, the Campaign for California Families, a Sacramento-based nonprofit, has been on a barnstorming tour of California to drum up opposition to the bill, claiming it circumvents the will of the voters who approved Proposition 22.
In a phone interview from the group’s motor home in Santa Maria on Sunday, Executive Director Randy Thomasson said he was also concerned that the Supreme Court decision would lead to a wave of new rulings and laws nationwide promoting what he called the “gay agenda.”
“There are bad judges and attorneys who could use this ruling for something besides the bedroom,” Thomasson said. “There are already plans to try to use this to push and force gay marriage upon every state in the union -- a misuse of the law.... It’s turning marriage upside down. It’s rejecting nature.”
In San Francisco, parade participants voiced support for AB 205, unlike two years ago when organizers toned down the political rhetoric, wary of alienating gays and lesbians who were against following such heterosexual institutions as marriage and child-rearing.
The parade also carried a more sentimental note as a tribute to former city Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay candidate elected to public office in California, who was gunned down 25 years ago this November.
But this being San Francisco and the always-irreverent gay pride parade, there was also a woman dressed in a nun’s habit atop a motorcycle, with a banner that read: “Where there is sin, that is where we must go.”
As the gay men’s chorus launched into a rendition of the pop song “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” office manager Mike Flanagin was all smiles. “Last week the Supreme Court validated the lifestyle we choose to lead. That makes today all the more special.”
Dan Corbett considered the day so special that he invited his straight brother, Tim, to the event for the first time. “I thought it was a good thing to do,” said Tim, sneaking a glance at his older brother. “The right thing.”
In New York City, thousands of marchers followed a purple line down Fifth Avenue in what spectators and participants agreed was a joyous celebration of the court ruling. Cheers rang out as the procession, featuring motorcyclists, antique cars, dancers, bands, banners and arches of balloons, passed.
“It’s like the Fourth of July and the gay pride parade all rolled into one,” said actress and gay rights advocate Cherry Jones, who with the playwright Terrence McNally served as grand marshals of the Heritage of Pride Parade.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg walked most of the route in a pair of comfortable brown boating-style shoes. He was preceded in the line of marchers by a New York Police Department band with a hip beat.
“I think the Supreme Court was right in their decision, and I’m sure this community really appreciated the Supreme Court making this decision,” Bloomberg said.
In Atlanta, where an estimated 300,000 people gathered to celebrate the annual Atlanta Pride festival, parents Jackie Middleton and Tammy Dickerson said they were hopeful the ruling would facilitate gay and lesbian adoptions.
“Every little bit helps,” said Dickerson, who took part in the parade in a truck along with Middleton and their adopted 3-year-old son. “You won’t find a happier child,” she said.
Some parents of gay family members attending the parade were jubilant and emotional about the Supreme Court ruling. Atlanta resident Jeanette Cross came with her husband and two children, one of whom is 17 and who said he declared himself gay at 14. The family marched together carrying a Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays banner.
“He has a right to love whomever he wishes,” said Cross, who said she was elated over the ruling.
Other parade spectators and participants, such as Dianne McManus, an Atlanta attorney who is straight, simply came for the upbeat party atmosphere and friendly crowd. She rode atop the Midtown Neighborhood Assn. float.
“Everyone knows this is the best event in midtown all year,” she said. “I’m really not that political.”
Times staff writer Richard Fausset contributed to this report.