More than 20,000 protesters spilled into the streets of Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and even Modesto on Saturday in mostly peaceful demonstrations over passage of Proposition 8, the statewide ballot measure that bans same-sex marriage.
The unfolding street scenes underscored the racial and religious tensions that have surfaced since Tuesday’s vote threw into question the legality of 18,000 marriages of gay and lesbian couples and foreclosed the option for any more.
Police estimated that 12,500 boisterous marchers converged about 6 p.m. at Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards in Silver Lake near the site of the former Black Cat bar, which the city recently designated a historic-cultural monument for its ‘60s role as home of the local gay rights movement.
Police guided the demonstrators through the streets for more than three hours without major confrontations. No arrests were reported.
Other demonstrations, including one that attracted up to 10,000 people in San Diego, popped up across the state. At each rally, participants vented frustration and anger over the ballot item that amends the state Constitution to declare that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized” in California.
Steve Ramos, 46, of Los Angeles carried a banner through the streets of Silver Lake with the spray-painted words “Teach tolerance, not hate.”
Supporters of the ballot proposition, he said, mixed “religion with politics” and missed the main point. “Everyone should have equal rights.”
Others carried candles and posters of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous quotations. Henry Chach, a 26-year-old information technology worker from West Covina, held a placard that read, “I have a dream too.”
The gay community, he said, has clearly failed to persuade blacks, who voted heavily in favor of Proposition 8, that theirs is also a struggle for civil rights.
The Silver Lake rally began with fiery speeches from the bed of a pickup.
Among the speakers was Robin Tyler, half of the lesbian couple who were denied a marriage license in 2004 and challenged that rejection all the way to the California Supreme Court.
The pair married after the court cleared the way for gay weddings, but the legal status of such marriages is now uncertain.
Tyler expressed frustration over the leadership of the unsuccessful campaign to defeat the ballot measure and lashed out at those who supported it.
“The No on 8 people didn’t want us to use the word ‘bigots.’ But that’s what they are, bigots, bigots, bigots,” Tyler said, bringing a round of cheers from the growing crowd. “We will never be made invisible again. Never again will we let them define who we are.”
The march’s organizers, the L.A. Coalition for Equal Marriage Rights and the Answer Coalition, did not apply for a permit, police said. The protest closed Sunset between Fountain and Sanborn avenues for about two hours as marchers moved west on Santa Monica, north on Vermont Avenue, then east on Hollywood Boulevard back to Silver Lake. Later a smaller group headed toward Hollywood.
Steering the crowds, several hundred officers were on scene, riding horses, motorcycles and bicycles. Others on foot were sprinkled through the crowd. Mario Mariscal, 20, and his mother, Delia Perez, a 45-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, stood on the Sunset Boulevard sidewalk. Mariscal came out to his mother as gay when he was 16. She held a sign saying, “Give my son his rights.”
Mariscal feels the No on 8 campaign spent little energy and money in the Latino community, which tilted for the ballot item. He said he was “very fearful for my future. When will they start treating me like an equal human being?”
A handful of counter-protesters were also on the scene, separated from the marching crowds by police on horseback. One man held up a large sign: “God does not love you just the way you are.”
A smaller demonstration in the late afternoon near Pierce College in Woodland Hills attracted a crowd of about 300, police said. Some of them hopped aboard buses to join the Silver Lake rally.
The demonstrations across the state “are all pretty spontaneous,” said Jason Howe, a former spokesman for the No on 8 campaign. “This is all pretty grass-roots stuff. They’re just going out on Facebook and MySpace and Craigslist. . . . People are angry and frustrated.”
Nicole Vizcarra, 21, a senior at San Diego State, said she and a friend helped organize an early morning rally Saturday in the Morley Field area adjacent to Balboa Park. Police estimated the crowd at 8,000 to 10,000 with no reported arrests.
Protests have been building all week, with thousands marching in San Francisco on Friday night and 2,000 rallying in Long Beach, leading to 15 arrests.
Additional demonstrations are planned for today for downtown Los Angeles, Lake Forest, Laguna Niguel, La Jolla, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and Visalia. Organizers of many of these plan to have protesters congregate at or march to Catholic churches and Mormon sites.
Catholic organizations spoke in favor of Proposition 8, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marshaled millions of dollars from church members to help finance the campaign for the measure.
Staff writers Rong-Gong Lin II, Sam Quinones, James Wagner and Kenneth R. Weiss contributed.