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Hundreds rally in Hub for equal rights for gays

By Casey Ramsdell
Globe Correspondent / January 11, 2009
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About 200 people braved the bitter cold yesterday to gather outside Boston City Hall to urge President-elect Barack Obama to strongly support equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

The demonstrators oppose the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as union between a man and a woman; they also object to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy within the armed forces. They called for passage of federal laws that would ban hate crimes and discrimination against employees because of their sexuality.

The rally was organized by Join the Impact MA, a group that formed shortly after the presidential election.

"We are calling attention, before the inauguration, to President Obama to [fulfill] the promises he made during the campaign," said Jonathan Brett, director of the group.

Demonstrators carried signs bearing slogans such as "Obama Don't DOMA" and cheered for the speakers, who included US Representative Barney Frank, Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, and Mayor E. Denise Simmons of Cambridge.

Frank, who is gay, said progress had been made toward equal rights, but people shouldn't be complacent.

"We can no longer tolerate people who tolerate intolerance," he said.

He said the most effective way to be heard is to reach out to Congress and write letters to the president. "I hope this rally inspires everyone here to write or call their representatives and senators," he said.

Approaching the podium after Frank's remarks, Menino looked back at Frank and quipped, "Everything that he said I agree with." The crowd laughed and cheered.

Menino said Massachusetts residents are "very fortunate" because elected officials have pushed for equal rights for gays. He said the movement was strong, judging from the number of people willing to come out in the 16-degree weather.

Simmons, who is a lesbian, echoed Frank and Menino's messages. "We have to lock arms and make those calls, write those letters," she said.

Paul McMahon and Ralph Hodgdon were in the crowd, holding a sign that read, "53 years together, 4 years married."

"We have been activists from the beginning," said Hodgdon, 74.

Their sign featured a collage of photos documenting their life together. They attended the rally to support the legalization of marriage and to push for action in Washington.

Not every gay person wants to get married, but it should be an option, said McMahon, 76. He said not being able to get married "is the highest form of discrimination. There is nothing criminal about getting married."

Thirty states have banned same-sex marriage. Massachusetts is one of two states in which it is legal. Opponents say that marriage should be allowed only between a man and woman. They argue, among other things, that children are worse off when raised by same-sex parents.

The group marched past the State House and the rally ended at Old West Church.

As the march proceeded, people began to join in and at the church about 500 people showed their support, according to organizers.

"Obama said, 'Change.' Now it's time to act on that," said Brett.

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