February 14, 2009

Same-sex couples march for marriage

Sandra Maggard and Tina Parker have been together for five years.

On Thursday, they walked arm-in-arm down the hallway of the Fayette County Clerk's Office. The couple asked the county to recognize their relationship with a marriage license.

They were denied.

"In a way I was hoping we would come and people would change their mind" about gay marriage, Maggard said. "If our grandkids are OK with it, why can't the world be OK with it?"

On Thursday, gay couples across Kentucky walked into county clerks' offices to request marriage licenses. The event was part of National Freedom to Marry Week, which was organized by Marriage Equality USA and other gay rights groups.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said they were trying to draw attention to the denial of a human right. He wants to see repeals for the state's gay marriage amendment (a recent constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions) and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allows states to do the same).

"We don't really care if it changes people's minds," Palmer said. "It is really about making people aware that we are not afraid anymore, and we will be fighting for our rights and we will overturn it."

Nonetheless, Palmer admitted to being nervous before he asked for his marriage license with his partner, Daniel Hill.

"It is intimidating," he said. "I'm shaking just thinking about it."

The clerk, Getha Helfenberger, politely refused to issue the license, explaining that gay marriage is banned by the state. Palmer shook her hand.

Only two couples asked to be married in Lexington. Palmer said turnout was stronger in Louisville. He estimated that 70 people from college gay-straight alliances showed up.

The Family Foundation of Kentucky, a socially conservative group that was instrumental in passing the state constitution's gay marriage ban, said gay rights groups should follow the proper procedure for amending the constitution.  "I think that there is nothing wrong with people making symbolic gestures like this; it's a free country," said Martin Cothran, a senior policy analyst. "But at the same time, this is not how you change the constitution. Trying to do it any other way is at bottom cheating. And we don't believe in cheating."

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