- (Photo: AP Images / Richard Drew)
Thousands of same-sex couples across the country applied for marriage licenses on Thursday, knowing they would be turned away.
Their actions were part of a nationwide demonstration coordinated by Marriage Equality USA, a gay rights group, to protest court and voters' decisions upholding traditional marriage.
The group, which declared Feb. 12 "National Freedom to Marry Day," said the protest was aimed at raising awareness of the harms and impact the inability to marry causes on their families. The protest is part of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week, designed to promote gay marriages.
Same-sex couples requested marriage licenses at their local County Clerk’s Offices, expecting to be denied but hoping to generate media coverage in the process.
Event information for a gay marriage protest in Philadelphia, Pa., instructed gay couples to "simply go into the marriage license office, apply for a marriage license and be DENIED." Protest organizers would then provide the couples with a "Marriage Denied" certificate and have a professional photographer take their portrait.
A lesbian couple in Arizona shocked participants when they were able to obtain a marriage license.
The two women filled out an application for a marriage license which was preprinted to state the groom is "male" and the bride is "female," reported The Arizona Daily Star. They then told the Pima County Clerk's office they were only swearing to the information they filled in, not the preprinted form itself.To their surprise, they were told that wouldn't be a problem.
Protesters in other states, however, were turned down when they sought a wedding license.
In Augusta, Maine, supporters of gay marriage gathered at the State House to deliver Valentine's Day cards to lawmakers, urging them to support a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
Some activists asked for multiple marriage licenses. In Orlando, Fla., ten gay and lesbian couples asked for a marriage license, a civil union license and a domestic partnership license before clerks at the Orange County Courthouse turned them down, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only two states to recognize same-sex marriage but other states are inching closer to legalizing the union.
Hawaii's House of Representatives approved on Thursday a measure to allow same-sex civil unions. The legislation now heads to the state's Senate Judiciary Committee.
In New York, same-sex marriages are not legal but Gov. David A. Paterson has issued a directive requiring that all state agencies recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
On Thursday, protesters carried signs that read "Just Not Married" as hundreds of gay couples were turned away from Manhattan's marriage bureau, according to Newsday.
In California, the state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about the validity of Proposition 8, a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage which voters passed during the November election. The High Court in California had legalized same-sex marriage months before the election.
Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of the first same-sex marriage in San Francisco. Over 4,000 same-sex couples received their marriage licenses in San Francisco in 2004. The state Supreme Court later declared the unions null and void. Some of the couples went to City Hall this week to show their gratitude to city clerks who married them.
Two couples lined up at the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau Thursday as supporters looked on and carried signs that read, "Don't hate my love," according to the Associated Press.
The same-sex marriage debate in California has served as an "energizer and wake-up call," Evan Wolfson, a civil rights lawyer who conceived Freedom to Marry Day, told AP.
Same-sex marriage advocates also plan to take their agenda to the federal level.
"With the support of President Obama and with the growing sea change towards supporting protections for same-sex couples, we are hopeful that we can finally turn our attention to overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act," said Amy Balliett, founder of Join the Impact, a gay rights group which helped coordinate Thursday's protests.
DOMA, enacted under the Clinton administration, defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws, and provides that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from another state.
But supporters of traditional marriage are not letting go without a fight.
The National Organization for Marriage has mobilized thousands to urge the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid and state legislators to uphold DOMA.
NOM executive director Brian S. Brown says the repeal of DOMA would jeopardize the marriage laws of 45 states, including constitutional amendments upholding traditional marriage in 30 states.
The group has also launched a Web site, www.busttheblacklist.com, to support or "buycott" the businesses that are being blacklisted by Proposition 8 opponents for their donations toward the measure's passage.
Individuals who donated toward the amendment through NOM California and the Protect Marriage campaign have claimed they are being targeted by gay rights activists in an intimidation and harassment campaign. They also point to a Web site, www.Eightmaps.com, which shows how much donors gave, where donors work and where donors live.
Despite protest from Proposition 8 supporters, a federal judge ordered the release of the names of 14,000 additional donors to the measure.
Meanwhile, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed documents Wednesday to help stop the registration of out-of-state same-sex marriages in New York.
The motion seeks to appeal separate lawsuits against New York officials for attempting to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages in contradiction to state law.
"New York state and local officials should not recognize the laws of foreign jurisdictions when they conflict with state law," said ADF senior legal counsel Brian Raum. "These officials have overstepped their authority in order to forward the agenda of special interest groups."
As part of Freedom to Marry Week, rallies in support of same-sex marriage will also take place in the following days in Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, New York and Utah.