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New Yorkers Protest Gay Marriage Ban Outside Mormon Church

Supporters of gay marriage gathered outside a Mormon temple Wednesday night to protest the church's support of a California ban on such marriages.

Protesters lined both sides of an avenue outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Lincoln Center. Leaders of the Mormon church had encouraged their members to support passage of California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that overturned the California Supreme Court ruling in May legalizing same-sex marriage. The amendment passed 52 percent to 48 percent.

"Shame on you!" the large crowd chanted in a 1-2-3 syncopation while looking up at the temple.

Several protesters held signs asking "Did you cast a ballot or a stone?" while other signs read "Latter Day H8" and "Church of Mormon" with an X drawn over the second M to read "Moron."

From the temple, protesters marched south to Columbus Circle.

Organizers of the rally estimated at least 10,000 people participated. Police said they do not give crowd estimates.

Mormon church spokesman Michael Otterson said that while he respected citizens' right to protest, he was "puzzled" and "disturbed" by the gathering given that the majority of California's voters approved the amendment.

"This was a very broad-based coalition that defended traditional marriage in a free and democratic election," Otterson said Wednesday before the rally's start, referring to Protestants, Catholics, evangelicals and Jews as well as Mormons.

"It's a little disturbing to see these protesters singling out the Mormon church," he said. "What exactly are these people protesting?"

Like many participants, Dennis Williams said friends who had learned about the rally on the social networking Web site Facebook and through e-mails told him about it.

"I'm fed up and disgusted with religious institutions taking political stances and calling them moral when it's nothing but politics," the 36-year-old Manhattan resident said. "It's hypocrisy. Meanwhile, they enjoy tax-free status while trying to deny me rights."

"I was particularly disturbed to see the number of African-Americans who supported Proposition 8 given our people's historic struggle for equal rights," said Williams, who is black. "I want all my rights as a full American citizen, not just as an African-American."

Williams was referring to the widely reported 70 percent of black California voters who supported the marriage ban, compared with 47 percent of white voters, 53 of Latino voters and 49 percent of Asian voters.

Since the election, the blogosphere has been ablaze with debate on whether black voters tipped the balance. Some blamed anti-Proposition 8 organizers for failing to target black, Latino and Asian voters.

At the rally, some even called on President-elect Barack Obama to support gay marriage, which he said he doesn't support. Obama, who favors civil unions, opposed Proposition 8.

The rally was held several hours after Connecticut legally allowed same-sex couples the right to marry. Massachusetts is the only other state that allows gay marriage.

Rally organizer Corey Johnson emphasized that the last-minute protest was intended to be peaceful, and police reported no arrests. Johnson and co-organizer Jay Blotcher said they feared the success of Proposition 8 would "embolden the religious right" to "train their eye on other states" such as New York.

"We're going to keep working and fighting for marriage equality in New York and across the country," Johnson said.

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