COLUMBIA — More than 100 people bundled in coats, scarves, hats and gloves gathered on Saturday afternoon in front of the Boone County Courthouse in the ear-numbing cold and a stiff wind to protest the passage of California’s Proposition 8.
The proposition banning same-sex marriage passed in California in the Nov. 4 election with 52 percent of the vote. It had been introduced to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage that was overturned by the California Supreme Court earlier this year.
Protests were planned for Saturday in cities nationwide, said Nick Wheat, an organizer for the Columbia protest. Wheat, along with co-organizers Mark Buhrmester and Caitlin Ellis, advertised on Facebook, MySpace, the national “Join the Impact” Web site and through local organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
“We (the gay community and supporters) did this nationwide protest for solidarity and to push back against discrimination,” Wheat said.
On the steps in front of the courthouse, using a small PA system, Buhrmester called the crowd together. He introduced the afternoon’s speakers and addressed the question of why Missourians and others outside of California were protesting an amendment that doesn’t directly affect them.
“The truth of the matter is that the hopes and fears of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community were riding on Proposition 8, and our hopes were dashed, and our fears were met," Buhrmester said. "So that’s why we are here together — to stand up for our rights with our friends and our community."
Dick Blount, a retired United Methodist minister, was one of the guests invited by Buhrmester to speak. Blount moved to Columbia in 1991 after retiring, and he and his wife have been members of Missouri United Methodist Church since 1996.
Blount said he hopes they can make the issue personal, rather than political. "These are our children; these are our family; these are our fellow citizens," he said. "We need to know them as people with a face."
Linda Hayes of Columbia stood in the crowd listening to the speakers and held a sign she made that read "Parents for Equal Civil Rights."
"I believe everyone should be treated fairly and equally," Hayes said, "and that includes my straight daughter and my gay son."
Rick Puig, president of the Young Democrats of Missouri, acknowledged the losses of the past but focused on a future of change when he addressed the crowd.
"The good news is that we’re on the right side of history," Puig said. "This is our movement, this is our moment, and we’ve got to own it because if we don’t stand up, no one else will. So take these lessons that we’ve learned from California. Don’t be discouraged."
Denise Gilmore, a Columbia resident and former Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said she hoped the protest would bring ordinary citizens together to draw attention to the need for change.
Change doesn't only happen in Washington, D.C., or Jefferson City, Gilmore said; "it can happen on my street corner."
Missouri’s own constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed on Aug. 3, 2004, with 71 percent of the state’s vote, although 52.6 percent of Columbia residents voted against the amendment. Missouri was the first state to vote on such an amendment.