Gay rights activists protest for marriage rights at Cook County Building Monday, August 26, 1996, Chicago -- by Steve Sposato Waving signs with statements such as, "No special rights for heterosexuals!" and "Till death do us part isn't just for straight people," queer activists loudly proclaimed their outrage at the attacks on the gay community this election year, especially in the form of the homophobic "Defense of Marriage Act" legislation which breezed through both houses of Congress and has been virtually assured a signature by the president. Though sponsored by Citizens for Gay Action, the International Socialist Organization and Queer Nation, the event also drew independent activists as well as members of the LesBiGay Immigration Rights Task Force, the Women's Action Coalition and ACT-UP. The event began quietly with literature being passed out, then a picket and chants outside, followed by a march into the County building at 118 N. Clark into the basement Marriage Bureau which was occupied for over an hour by nearly a hundred people chanting, making speeches, and demanding applications for marriage licenses. When turned down by the red-ribbon wearing office worker who handed out photocopies of the pertinent state statute preventing her from complying with the protesters' requests, couples responded by kissing, yelling, and sometimes simply walking away in disgust. Though the event was not at the site of the Convention Center, the protest was obviously aimed at the Democrats in town to go through the motions of nominating Clinton for re-election. Chants such as "Hey Clinton! Hey Gore! Same-sex marriage is what we're fighting for!" and "Same-sex marriage, can you dig it? Clinton, let's face it, is a bigot" made that clear. Several speakers expressed outrage at the spectacle of a community preparing to support for re-election an administration that has so demeaned them. Speaker Andy Thayer called the gay community's Democratic allegiance "a fraud." At the beginning of the protest, queer activists met with a mixed response from the firefighters union protesting for fair testing. In a display of wit, queer activists attempted to spark solidarity by chanting, "We ALL deserve a contract." Some unionists smiled at the show of support, and others were overheard making homophobic jokes. Later, though there had been rumors of a high level of support for the demonstration, security personnel initially halted the march downstairs, proceeding to confiscate all signs and posters (which later mysteriously reappeared). Though it has never been at the top of the agenda for progressive queer activists who traditionally tend to critique the institution of marriage from an anti-capitalist and/or a feminist point of view, election year Clintonian politics have inspired more activism around the issue as it has become clearer that Democrats are exploiting the controversial status of the marriage issue in the gay community to appease the right-wing family values camp. In this case, once again, the Democratic convention here in Chicago may be acting as a political catalyst. Before the convention, the Citizens for Gay Action (chiefly organized around marriage) had begun fizzling out as the Hawaii case goes into a potentially years-long process of decisions and appeals. Thanks to Clinton and the Democrats, functioning more and more like Republicans in their ability to piss off progressives and radicals, at least one group is mobilizing again. It remains to be seen how many organizations active this week survive the convention, let alone the election.
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