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April 29, 2000 12:44am
Same-sex Weddings Staged at Lincoln Memorial
Source: AP
by: Genaro Armas

(WASHINGTON) -- Olivia Durant waited three years to profess her love for her partner, Sabrina Beach. Since they are not able to legally exchange marriage vows, they thought taking part in a giant mock wedding ceremony would be the next best thing.

Fresh from a victory that granted homosexuals marriage-like rights in Vermont, Durant and Beach joined hundreds of other couples Saturday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in a bid to press even wider acceptance for civil unions.

Organizers said about 1,000 same-sex couples exchanged rings and vows in front of friends, family and about a dozen protesters, part of a weekend-long rally for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights culminating in Sunday's Millennium March on the National Mall.

``We're so happy right now,'' said Durant, of Rochester, N.Y. ``But I hope someday, same-sex marriages will be legal. We've joked about moving to Vermont because of that.''

It is the fourth gathering on the Mall by gay and lesbian rights groups in the last 21 years. It tops a busy period for activists, who earlier this week had praise for the new law in Vermont and for President Clinton's renewed call to Congress to pass the stagnant Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Supporters and critics have also verbally clashed at the Supreme Court, where on Wednesday the justices heard arguments over whether the Boy Scouts can bar a homosexual from serving as a troop leader.

``We're just like any other family. We get up, we go to work,'' said Pam Lessard, of Melbourne, Fla., who wore a white-laced veil on her head as she waited for the ceremony to start. ``We are the same as'' heterosexual couples.

``It will be an honor for members of the gay community and their allies to stand before the Lincoln Memorial, this great American symbol of freedom, and demand equal rights,'' said the Rev. Troy Perry, moderator of the Universal Federation of Metropolitan Community Churches, who performed the ceremony.

Other events on Saturday included a concert featuring Garth Brooks and Melissa Ethridge, and the unveiling of new panels to the AIDS memorial quilt on the Mall.

The weekend's event, particularly Sunday's march, have been criticized by anti-gay groups, and gay and lesbian advocacy groups who contend there was not enough outreach to grassroots organizations and people of color.

``The march's purpose, insensitive elitism, is not our purpose. Our purpose will not be advanced by the Millennium March on Washington,'' said Ed Brown, co-chairman of the National Association of Black and White Men Together.

Six protesters carrying signs such as ``Repent or Perish'' and ``Got AIDS Yet'' taunted supporters and drew the attention of police from across a roadway in front of the memorial. Some got into face-to-face arguments with supporters before police separated them.

U.S. Park Police said there were no arrests in connection with Saturday's events.

Another group of protesters, led by Anthony Falzarano of Falls Church, Va., tried to tell gays and lesbians of a network of ``ex-gay'' groups filled with people who realized ``they could change.''

``We're here today to be compassionate to homosexuals,'' said Falzarano who said he left a gay lifestyle in 1983. ``We know what it's like to be misunderstood. So we're here to tell any homosexual out there it's OK not to be gay.''

Organizers hope to draw 300,000 people for the march Sunday.

``We want the same benefits that legally married couples have,'' John Catania, of New York said after exchanging vows with his partner. ``You want the country to be better, and recognizing this in law makes the country better.''

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