More than 200 people gathered uptown Saturday to protest California's recent ban on same-sex marriages and what it means for such couples nationwide.
The event was one of more than 300 Saturday, including rallies in all 50 states. Protesters also gathered in Greenville, Greensboro, Raleigh, Asheville and Boone.
Holding rainbow flags and braving strong winds, protesters rallied at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg government center and sang protest songs made famous during the country's struggle for civil rights some 40 years ago.
Organizers intended the rallies to show support for California's same-sex couples and to spur reaction from those who feel such unions should be allowed everywhere.
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“We need a movement in this country,” said Joanie Beasley of Gastonia. “It is time we said no to all bigotry and hate. It is time we demanded our civil rights.”
Beasley, 53, sang along with the crowd Saturday, closing her eyes at the chorus of “We Shall Overcome.” She attended the rally with her partner Nancy Leedy, also 53.
The couple has been together for six years and would like to marry.
“We love each other and are committed to one another,” she said. “Why shouldn't we be allowed to make it legal?”
North Carolina does not allow same-sex marriages. In fact, after the recent California decision, only two states do: Massachusetts and Connecticut.
California passed the controversial measure, Proposition 8, in November – six months after the state supreme court ruled in favor of allowing same-sex marriages.
In most states, same-sex couples struggle with matters of inheritance, child custody and property ownership. They cannot, for example, make medical decisions for each other or stand by each other's hospital bed during crises.
Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire now offer civil unions. Oregon has domestic partnership laws that grant some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. And Maine, Washington, Maryland and the District of Columbia grant certain limited benefits through domestic partnerships.
But many of those who attended Saturday's rally were distressed by the California ban. Most looked at the Western state as one of the country's most progressive.
“That really hit hard,” said Robert Kellogg, 38, of Gastonia. “I think it woke a lot of us up. We took for granted that California would lead the way. Now we know it will be up to us.”
California has experienced a rush of rallies and protests since 52 percent of voters approved the ban on Nov. 4. Some of the protests have targeted financial supporters of the Proposition 8 campaign, including the Mormon Church.
Greg London attended Saturday's rally with his 3-year-old daughter, Lulu. Although he and his partner of 13 years are not able to marry, the two have taken the same last name and are raising two children together.
“We are, for all intents, married,” he said. “But this is about our legal rights. This is about taxes and healthcare and basic human decency.”