||A protester silently holds a sign defending marriage during a rally July 27 in front of the State Capitol in Madison as counter-protesters marched loudly up State Street. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner) Click here for more photos of the rally.
MADISON — In terms of sheer numbers, if not volume, the counter-protestors won.
Hundreds marched up State St. towards the State Capitol where no more than 30 people stood waiting for the “One Man, One Woman” rally to begin at noon July 27. Standing on the Capitol steps, it was impossible not to hear them coming, shouting slogans as they went.
An overheard comment on the steps of the Capitol between two members of the media likened the scene to that in Lord of the Rings as the horde marches to battle, suggesting cutting shots of the protesters with shots from the movie.
But through it all, even when the crowd reached the Capitol and began shouting from the other side of the thin barrier of police tape, those people within the yellow-taped area stood firmly, silently. Some held signs; others held rosaries or children.
“Thank you to those with the courage to stand up for marriage,” Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), said to the crowd, which some estimates put at 50 rally supporters. “It takes courage to stand in the public square and say it takes a man and a woman to make marriage.”
“When people try to silence you, do not listen. Stand up for the good wherever you are — that’s the meaning of this tour,” said Bryan Brown, executive director of NOM.
In defense of marriage
NOM, along with the local nonprofit lobby group Wisconsin Family Action, organized the rally at the Capitol as part of NOM’s national 2010 Summer Marriage Tour. The tour’s purpose is to bring awareness to the need to publicly support the sanctity of marriage. This particular stop served the dual purposes of thanking Wisconsin voters for approving the state constitutional amendment defending marriage, as well as thanking the State Supreme Court for upholding that amendment in a recent challenge.
The Wisconsin State Constitutional Amendment was passed in November 2006 with 59 percent of Wisconsin votes. The amendment reads: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.”
On June 30, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of upholding the amendment. A suit filed in July 2007 alleged, among other things, that the amendment was unconstitutional due to a requirement that voters must be allowed to vote separately on separate amendments. The plaintiff alleged that the two sentences of the marriage amendment constituted two amendments. Wisconsin Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen countered that the amendment was adopted in conformity with the separate amendment rule.
In their ruling, the court concurred with Van Hollen’s argument. “Both sentences of the marriage amendment relate to marriage and tend to effect or carry out the same general purpose of preserving the legal status of marriage in Wisconsin as between only one man and one woman,” the ruling said.
Seeking civil discourse
The common thread throughout the rally July 27 was a call for tolerance, respect, and civil debate.
“Marriage is rooted in respect and the dignity of the human person,” said Brown. “Remember who we are, that we are standing up for the greater good, for the foundation of society, that the marriage of one man and one woman is what we’re standing for.”
Bishop Robert C. Morlino was present to reiterate his — and the Catholic Church’s — stand on marriage as a lifelong and exclusive union of one man and one woman, with openness to children. The Church’s stance is based on an understanding of sexuality and procreation and the need to respect God’s inclusion in the marriage act.
After a brief talk in which he asked God’s blessings on all those present at the Capitol, Bishop Morlino led those at the NOM rally in an “Our Father” to ask God to strengthen them in their struggle to open minds and hearts to reason and faith, and then led a second “Our Father” to pray for those on the other side of the tape, who continued shouting accusations of homophobia and a lack of “equal rights.”
“There’s no place for ‘gay bashing’ among us,” the bishop reminded the crowd through the shouts of hecklers. “We want to pray that the Lord will calm the hearts of our brothers and sisters with his love because he loves them so much and with his truth because the highest expression of our respect for them and for their rights is to offer them, lovingly, the truth.”
“I’ve been at rallies over the years, some of them put on by the groups behind you,” said State Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend). “And one thing I noticed is, when they’re here, we never show up and shout them down. . . . It’s only the people behind you who are scared of the truth. Ask yourself why we’re here today, and why they won’t listen; why they’re so scared to death someone will walk by here and hear the truth.”
Not all of the counter-protesters were shouting down the speakers or infiltrating the rally to hold hands and take pictures of themselves. There were those who were not offensive; many stood silently at a discreet distance with their signs or flags. And it was to those protestors that Senator Grothman addressed his remarks at the end of the rally: “When you’re not being shouted down by your friends, come up and talk to us — because the truth will set you free if you’ll listen to it.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will soon launch a Web site devoted to strengthening the Catholic understanding of marriage, defending its place as the heart of family and society, and answering questions and challenges to the meaning of and need for marriage and the family. Visit www.usccb.org/marriageuniqueforareason to learn more.