Clovis News

Thousands at same-sex marriage rally in Fresno

It was anything but a typical Fresno City Hall gathering Saturday as Hollywood stars, elaborately dressed drag queens and activists rallied for the right of gays to marry.

But their target audience was decidedly mainstream -- including people such as Chuck McNally, a straight man from Fresno.

"I just think everyone should be treated equally," said the 32-year-old community activist, who was brought to tears as he spoke.

Organizers of the "Meet in the Middle" rally outside City Hall sought to reach heterosexual residents of the central San Joaquin Valley -- and change a few minds in an area where most voters favored Proposition 8, the state ban on same-sex marriage.

Following the California Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to uphold Prop. 8, gay-rights activists decided to bring the public-relations battle to Fresno. Winning the right of gays to marry, they said, will require the support of communities known for middle-American values, such as those in the Valley.

Thousands showed up. Organizers pegged the cumulative turnout at 4,000 to 5,000. Fresno police estimated that the crowd peaked at 2,500 to 3,000 people.

The day started in Selma, where more than 100 set out on foot for a march to Fresno.

By the time they arrived, temperatures were in the 90s. Organizers handed out water.

Many participants carried signs, such as one that said "Good Supremes," showing a picture of the old Motown band with Diana Ross, and "Bad Supremes," showing justices on the state court.

Terry Vargas and her husband, Cesar Rios, came from Clovis with a sign reading, "Straights Against H8."

"We have the right to marry, and it is extremely sad to us that other people don't because of hate and ignorance," said Vargas, a therapist.

The crowd was a blend of locals and visitors from Southern California and the Bay Area. But the most important audience wasn't there, participants said.

"I'm here to talk to the people who are maybe watching the news and maybe voted for [Prop.] 8," said actor Eric McCormack, a straight man who played a gay man on the TV show "Will and Grace." "Gays aren't going to ruin marriage. They're gay, so they'll probably spruce it up a bit and make it better."

Other stars participating in the event included Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron and T.R. Knight of the TV show "Grey's Anatomy." Theron didn't speak to the crowd; Knight talked briefly.

Rally speakers weren't just preaching to the converted, said local organizer Jon Carroll.

"We're rallying the base," he said. "They will soon face difficult discussions with friends and family about the importance of supporting this issue."

Participants also planned to canvass neighborhoods in Fresno and Clovis this weekend, knocking on doors and talking about same-sex marriage with residents, Carroll said.

"It's been extremely satisfying," he said. "People are excited and energized."

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