Approximately 200 people gathered in front of the steps of West Hartford Town Hall Tuesday to rally in support of marriage equality.
By Ronni Newton
A rainbow flag was officially flown and the 10-year anniversary of the legalization of same sex marriage in Connecticut was celebrated on West Hartford’s Town Green last fall, but after a group held a protest against marriage equality in the center of town on Saturday morning, about 200 people gathered Wednesday evening to share the message that “Love is Love.”
“Our community is strong … is caring … is non-judgmental,” said Deputy Mayor Beth Kerrigan, whose court case Kerrigan vs. Commissioner of Public Health set the precedent for allowing marriage equality in the state.
Standing on the steps of Town Hall, Kerrigan was one of 10 speakers to address the crowd. She said that in West Hartford, “we believe ‘love is love,” adding that when she learned of Saturday’s protest while out of town, she had to check the date on the email to make sure it wasn’t an old message.
“I was thinking, was I in a time warp,” Kerrigan said.
The message being promoted by Saturday’s group is not who West Hartford is, Kerrigan said. She urged people not to remain quiet in the face of hate. “When you hear something, you must say something. We cannot allow any hate speech to go un-squashed,” she said.
Several clergy members also spoke at the rally, including Rev. Dr. Adam Robersmith of the Universalist Church of West Hartford. He said that religion should never be used to say some are right and some are wrong.
“There is religious speech that allows all of us to be with the ones we love,” Robersmith said to the crowd.
Rev. Bob Hooper from St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford said he initially thought that as a straight, white, male minister, he was an odd choice as speaker for this rally. But, he said, “It’s not about labels … love is love.
“One of our strengths is that we are a community of diverse experiences,” said Hooper. “God’s message [is] of universal love – universal, no exceptions.”
“Tonight I feel love is the spirit of West Hartford,” said Commissioner of Early Childhood Beth Bye. She urged the crowd to repeat the message: “Love is the spirit of West Hartford.”
Bye and her wife, Tracey Wilson, who also attended the rally, were the first same-sex couple to marry in Connecticut – with a ceremony held on the very day it became legal, Nov. 12, 2008. The couple and their children have always felt supported by the West Hartford community, she said.
“I think of what Tracey always says to me: ‘Let them talk,'” Bye said. As a historian, Wilson is fully aware that those who oppose marriage equality have the right to speak their minds publicly under the first amendment, said Bye.
“But you all talked much louder – we talked back,” Bye said.
Tammy Exum, a candidate for the 19th District State House seat, said that the crowd was gathered to affirm the values of the West Hartford community: “love, inclusion, and diversity.”
Kassie and Charlie, co-presidents of Hall High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), also spoke to the crowd.
“Yes, we’ve come this far but we have only come this far,” Kassie said.
“It’s a sad day in West Hartford when hateful people take to the street,” said Charlie, referencing Saturday’s protest. “As Kassie said, we still have a long way to go.”
Human Rights Commission Chair Barry Walters said that when he heard about Saturday’s protest, in the center of town where marriage equality had been celebrated just a few months earlier, he got a pit in his stomach as if it was a personal attack.
“The reaction was immediate by citizens who took to social media,” Walters said, and that was so reassuring. Although the protestors have the first amendment right to say what they want to, same sex marriage is now a legal right.
West Hartford is caring and inclusive, said Walters. “A small protest does not define us nor does it diminish us. We will leave here as a stronger community and an even better West Hartford.”
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