A group of San Mateo County residents, reverends, church members, business people, a county supervisor, parents, labor leaders and students gathered on the steps of the historic courthouse in downtown Redwood City Thursday morning to garner support for an effort to defeat Proposition 8, a state measure that if approved would change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Opponents of Proposition 8 gathered on the steps, with more joining the group as the rally continued, holding signs reading "Keep the Freedom to Marry," "Equal Rights for All," "Menlo Mom says No on 8."
Rev. Vail Weller of the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Mateo, which has gathered groups of church members twice a week for phone banking against Proposition 8, opened with a prayer before she spoke to the crowd that had gathered behind her and the smaller group of people watching from the courthouse square.
"Together we are standing on the side of love," Weller said. "As a person of faith, as a religious leader, as a friend, an ally, a mother and a citizen of California, that's where I want to be."
Weller said she has officiated at many weddings and, since the California Supreme Court ruled in May that the state constitution provides a right for same-sex couples to marry, has officiated a number of weddings for same-sex couples.
"I will tell you, it is something to behold when two people who happen to be gay are able to join their lives in legal marriage," Weller said. "It is a blessing when any couple chooses to commit to a life of partnership."
Rich Gordon, who has been elected a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors four times, married his partner of 26 years in August. Gordon said there are thousands of other gay and lesbian couples in San Mateo County, and taking away their rights to a legal marriage threatens the community.
"Prop. 8 threatens the fabric of our community, because it says some of the threads in that fabric are not equal to others," Gordon said. "It threatens to pull us apart."
"(To vote no on Proposition 8) guarantees that my rights will not be taken away, and that the rights of your friends and neighbors will not be taken away," Gordon said to cheers from the crowd.
"At Stanford we know that same-sex couples are an integral and esteemed part of our educational community: our professors, our librarians, our custodians, our counselors, our friends and our peers," Gelender said. "We know that a vote for Prop. 8 is a vote for discrimination."
Gelender, who said STAMP has created proposal scenes around the university campus to convey the joy of those who have been allowed to marry since May, compared the state Supreme Court's May decision to legalize same-sex marriage to the 1948 Supreme Court decision that found bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional.
"Just 50 years ago our country was emblazoned with a controversy over interracial marriages," Gelender said. "We were told that interracial marriages would devalue the institution of marriage and that interracial marriages would harm our children. Today, proponents of Prop. 8 have tried to use similar scare tactics to frighten voters into eliminating fundamental rights for our fellow Californians."
Gelender and others who spoke passionately during the 45-minute rally urged state residents to oppose Proposition 8 to protect same-sex marriages and the constitutional right to equality under the law.
Shelley Kessler, executive secretary treasurer of the San Mateo County Central Labor Council, said the rights of same-sex couples should be the same as the rights of every other citizen.
"Working people feel that all rights should be civil rights and human rights and workers' rights. All those rights are bound together," Kessler said.
"When you discriminate against one group of people, it gives permission to discriminate against others, and we stand definitely opposed to those forms of discrimination. Any forms of discrimination" Kessler said.
The rally this morning ended with cheers and chanting of "No on 8" as attendees collected their signs, descended from the steps and gathered with their fellow activists, church members, spouses and classmates.