EQUALITY TORCH RELAY SPARKS ARREST IN LEMON GROVE; GAY RIGHTS ADVOCATES CARRY TORCH TO RALLIES AT 4 EAST COUNTY CITY HALLS

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June 9, 2009 (San Diego’s East County)—A protester was arrested in Lemon Grove Saturday for assaulting San Diego Pride director Ron DeHarte during an equality relay for gay rights. (View a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E91X_cD-tqk&feature=related). Overall, however, the relay through four East County cities was peaceful, organizer Eve Parker reported. “We had such a wonderful and supportive day in East County,” she added.

Countywide, about 2,000 people turned out to commemorate the anniversary of the stonewall riots in New York, an event many view as the start of the gay rights movement. In East County, 23 torchbearers carried a torch to rallies at city halls in El Cajon, Santee, La Mesa and Lemon Grove.

Parker, who spoke at all four rallies, urged people to unite and inspire change. The California Supreme Court ruling overturning Proposition 8 and banning new gay marriages “will not stand,” she predicted, comparing the gay rights movement to the struggle for women’s suffrage and abolition of slavery. “We are all human beings,” said Parker, who is heterosexual but believes in equality for all individuals. “Let us raise our flags, our torches, and our voices for marriage equality.” (View video of the El Cajon rally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHzgoKs3ktM )

Nancy Jennings, a professor at Cuyamaca College, spoke at the El Cajon and Santee rallies. “I care about this because it matters,” said Jennings, who added that she has a gay family member. “If the majority can vote rights away from a minority, we should all be concerned.” Opposition to gay rights has been largely based on "misinformation and fear," she said, adding that one of her students mistakenly believed Prop 8 would allow boys to enter a girls' restroom.

Gay marriage, which is now legal in six states, has been opposed by conservatives and some religious groups whose members believe a traditional marriage should be reserved for unions between men and women.

But Jennings argued that the prohibition on gay marriage violates the 14th amendment to the Constitution which declares that no state shall make or abridge a law that denies rights or equal protections to citizens. Courts have previously invalidated a ban on marriages by prison inmates, she observed. “Any two people, even murderers and rapists, can marry—except for two gay people,” noted Jennings. The battle is about more than the word “marriage” she observed, noting that without full marriage rights, a gay or lesbian partner may be denied hospital visitation rights, the right to inherit property, or custody rights to children if a partner dies. One federal study identified 1,138 federal benefits to marriage, she said.

Jennings likened prohibitions on gay rights to Jim Crow racial segregation laws. "Two hundred years ago, many believed that slavery was a good idea," she noted. "Ultimately, I hope people will look back on this time as a dark time in our nation's history." Romer de los Santos II, secretary of San Diego Pride, spoke at all four city halls in East County. “Our hope is that the equality torch will continue to burn in your hearts and inspire you to reach out to your neighbors,” he said.

Other speakers included Lemon Grove Councilmember George Gastil, Chris Ward, chief of staff for Assemblyman Marty Block, and Elle Van Dermark, a historian. Marchers ended the event at the County Administration Building, where San Diego Councilman Todd Gloria spoke and twelve torches were united in a circle and lifted high, symbolizing participants’ hopes for future equality.