Monday, June 8, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY | An activist who worked alongside slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk announced plans Sunday for a march on Washington this fall to demand that Congress establish equality and marriage rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Cleve Jones said the march planned for Oct. 11 will coincide with National Coming Out Day and launch a new chapter in the gay rights movement. He made the announcement during a rally at the annual Utah Pride Festival.

“We seek nothing more and nothing less than equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states,” Mr. Jones said.

He stirred up a crowd of thousands just blocks from the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was part of a conservative coalition that worked last fall to pass California’s Proposition 8 that overturned a court ruling legalizing gay marriage.

“I’ve got a message for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Mr. Jones shouted. “I’ve got two words from California. … I’ve got two words for the prophet. … Thank you. Thank you for uniting us. Thank you for galvanizing us.”

Mormons were among the campaign’s most vigorous volunteers and financial contributors, giving tens of millions of dollars to back Proposition 8, which Mr. Jones said has helped awaken and unite the gay rights movement in all 50 states.

Like many faiths, Mormons hold traditional marriage as a sacred institution. The church has been active in fighting marriage equality legislation across the U.S. since the 1990s and, in 2006, joined other faiths in asking Congress for a marriage amendment to the Constitution.

Gay marriage is legal in six states. A handful of others allow civil unions for same-sex couples and about 40 either bar the recognition of same-sex marriage or have explicitly defined marriage - through legislation or constitutional amendments - as between a man and a woman.

Mr. Jones was a protege of Mr. Milk, San Francisco’s first openly gay elected official, who was shot and killed by a fellow member of the Board of Supervisors in 1978. In the 1980s, Mr. Jones founded the NAMES Project, the AIDS memorial quilt that recognizes the more than 80,000 Americans who have died from HIV/AIDS.

In an interview Friday, he said a confluence of events - a new president, the success of the movie “Milk” and Proposition 8 - makes this the right time to intensify the fight for equality.

Since November, Mr. Jones said he has received hundreds of e-mails from Mormons who apologized and said they were uncomfortable or ashamed by the faith’s fight against Proposition 8.

“It’s unfortunate that a church and a people who experienced persecution in the past could not come to some accommodation that would allow them to maintain their faith without so vociferously seeking to deny other people their rights,” Mr. Jones said.

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