Sunday, June 27, 2004

MANASSAS — Homosexual-rights activists yesterday marched through this historic downtown and past the home of a Virginia legislator to protest a law that bans civil unions.

The law, sponsored by Delegate Robert G. Marshall and set to take effective July 1, amends Virginia’s Affirmation of Marriage Act to prohibit the recognition of same-sex “marriages” performed in other states.

Carrying signs with slogans such as “Stop The Hate” and “We Are Your Neighbors,” about 50 activists were on hand for the event organized by Prince William County’s chapter of Equality Virginia, a homosexual-rights group. Mr. Marshall is a Prince William Republican.

Several marchers were not homosexual but sympathizers.

“We’re here because we can’t stand bigotry,” said Mona F. Shaw, 72, who marched beside her husband of 41 years, Donald, 71, and a contingent of others from the Bull Run Unitarian Universalist Church.

Before the measure was passed by the General Assembly in April, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, tried to delete the phrase “partnership contracts” from it, saying it was unconstitutional. The governor failed, and the bill passed without his signature.

The measure raised an outcry from activists. Equality Virginia planned a legal challenge; another group created a Web site calling for a boycott of Virginia companies and tourism.

The marchers demonstrated yesterday against Mr. Marshall but were careful not to cause too much disruption to his quiet cul-de-sac.

It was not clear whether the delegate was at home; no one answered the phone in the afternoon.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Marshall called the march a “very long step in a very wrong direction,” saying it had forced him to cancel a high school graduation party for his son.

As the marchers approached, they put picket signs in a pile on the roadside so as not to pass the Marshall home with too “negative” a message, said Kirk Marusak, who as founder of Equality Prince William organized the demonstration.

“We want to work with him, not send a negative message,” Mr. Marusak said.

Mr. Marusak’s partner, who gave his name only as Tony, said he was bothered that “the straight community has such fears of the gay community.”

“The truth is we’re really no different,” Tony, 47, said. “You have your extremists in any group, and we have ours. They tend to be the drag queens and things of that nature, but that’s not who the majority are. We’re your neighbors.”

Tony said he and Mr. Marusak have been together for four years, since meeting at Dignity Catholic Church in the District. Though the two are not “married,” he said, those who “settle down and make a home together” should be afforded the same rights as anyone else.

His statements were echoed by other marchers, including Tim Gajewski, 42, who carried an American flag and wore a bumper sticker across his chest declaring: “Stop Sending Bigots to Richmond.”

Mr. Gajewski’s partner of 14 years, who wished to remain anonymous, said the new law endangers contractual agreements between homosexuals including “wills, custody arrangements and a host of other privileges that are associated with marriage.”

The peaceful march began at noon and lasted just more than an hour. Manassas Police Lt. C.V. Crawford said he was surprised when one young woman approached police to ask whether she could hold an opposing sign as marchers passed.

The sign, bearing the words “Abomination” and “Detestable Act,” made reference to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Bible.

“Marriage is a sacred act,” said the sign’s owner, Katie Stauffer, 20. “Civil marriages infringe on the sacredness of marriage.”

The marchers passed Mr. Marshall’s home without stopping. Virginia law prohibits picketing in front of a person’s home.

Several “No Trespassing” signs were posted on his property. Prince William Police Lt. Robert E. Forker warned that approaching the front door would be illegal.

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