3 min

Marriage ruling sparks full day of protests in San Francisco

Thousands take to the streets after California Supreme Court upholds Prop 8

Credit: Liz Highleyman photo

(Click here for more coverage of Prop 8)

Starting soon after at dawn and ending well after dusk, thousands of San Franciscans spent Tuesday protesting the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban narrowly passed as a voter initiative last November.

Activists gathered early in the morning at a church in the gay ground-zero Castro neighborhood and marched to the court building at Civic Center, where they joined hundreds of others awaiting the decision.

Upon hearing the unwelcome verdict at 10am, the protesters — including more than a dozen clergy members from various denominations — marched to the corner of Grove and Van Ness St, a major cross-city route, and sat down in the street. Activists blocked traffic for hours as police (many of them lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) arrested and handcuffed them one by one starting around noon. Some 175 people were arrested, but they were quickly processed and released in time to join a new round of evening demonstrations.

Around 5pm, more than 1,000 protesters once again converged at Civic Center. After hearing from several speakers — including one who urged a four-fold strategy of “bottom up, top down, inside out, and outside in” organizing — the spirited crowd hit the streets, spilling into Market St to block the city’s main thoroughfare at rush hour.

The diverse protesters consisted of people of every creed and color, families with small children, veteran activists from the gay liberation to the ACT UP/Queen Nation eras, and young people getting active for the first time. In keeping with local tradition, Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA and partner Davina Kotulski — among the first San Francisco couples to get married during the window of legality — marched in wedding garb.

In a departure from the usual San Francisco protest routine, the marchers proceeded to Yerba Buena Gardens, a downtown oasis featuring a fountain inscribed with the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King: “No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Rally organizers planned a lengthy program featuring Taiko drummers, children throwing wedding bouquets, and local politicians including State Senator Mark Leno. But the emotional crowd soon grew impatient, and around 7:30pm, after a brief skirmish between police and a woman on the edge of the garden, a significant segment of the gathering was once again on the move, chanting “Out of the park and into the streets!”

Part of the group — perhaps 200 strong — dashed ahead or took the subway to the Castro, joining with neighborhood denizens to block the Market/Castro intersection. “We’d better repeal Proposition 8, because we’re not moving to the Midwest!” said Chris Ridste as she observed the sit-in.

Some young protesters — several of them representing groups such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the Revolutionary Communist Party — shouted through bullhorns to urge people to turn their anger into activism, and a smaller march set out on a reverse course back down Market St headed for the city’s posh shopping district at Union Square.

But plans soon changed when they met up with hundreds of other marchers following a sound truck provided by the Late Night Coalition, a group representing entertainment venues and event producers. Leading the parade was San Francisco Emperor 36 John Weber of the Imperial Court system, singing “Fight for Your Right to Marry” as a jubilant group of dancers fell in behind.

As the sound truck took up a position on Castro St around 8:30pm — about the same time the Yerba Buena rally was ending — the gathering shifted into party mode, disconcerting some participants who had come out to protest.

“The gay community has always smiled in the face of adversity,” said Weber. “But there’s a time to party, a time to shake your ass, and this is not that time. For the first time ever, the state Supreme Court took away people’s rights. This is not a time to sit down. The fight for marriage equality is a rainbow of every hue and every color.”

“A lot of us had our hearts broken by the decision, but we brought together our community and marched all over this city all day,” said Debra Walker, a candidate for city supervisor. “This is the last time we will lose this battle.”

“We need to keep marching today, tomorrow, and this weekend in Fresno,” she added, referring to the state’s conservative Central Valley. “That’s where we lost this battle, and that’s where we need to go, to talk to people and change their minds one person at a time.”