Story by Chris Graham
It began to get out of hand when the group of people carrying a banner proclaiming that “Love Is Not Wrong” came face to face with another group carrying signs advocating that Virginians “Vote Yes 4 Marriage.”
Or was it when the self-avowed atheist started chanting satirical anti-gay slurs and jabbing a homemade placard reading “God Hates Fags – Don’t Let ‘Em Get Hitched” into the air?
Whenever it turned out to be this way, what had started as a pro-marriage amendment rally on the steps of the Rockingham County Courthouse in downtown Harrisonburg at high noon today ended up being quite the spectacle.
“It’s pretty strange,” said Linda Royster, an Augusta County woman who was married to her longtime partner, Barbara Kinsman, in a ceremony held on the street corner in front of the courthouse as the pro-marriage amendment rally got going in the background.
As a who’s who of Republican politicians – including U.S. Sen. George Allen, who is engaged in a bitter re-election battle with Democrat Jim Webb – spoke several yards away, Royster and Kinsman, who have been together for more than 20 years, tied the knot in an informal ceremony attended by a large gathering of family and friends.
“We’re here to be with our friends, celebrating our love and love for our friends and their love for us,” Royster told The Augusta Free Press. “We need, I think, constantly to stand up and tell people that we are a loving people, that we are no threat to anybody, and that we are in peace in our relationships and our friendships and our love for one another.”
Up on the courthouse steps, John Sloop, the minister at First Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, was opening the marriage amendment rally.
“At our September board meeting, our church leaders voted to encourage our people to support the marriage amendment, because we don’t think it’s a matter of left or right, or some political agenda, but right or wrong on God’s agenda,” Sloop said.
“We believe that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian Biblical principles. The Supreme Court of our country, if you walk through the Supreme Court, there are all kinds of illusions to Scripture and to the Ten Commandments carved into the marble there. That’s our history – and we stand against those who try to redefine what we have always understood to be marriage between a man and a woman,” Sloop said.
“I wish that we didn’t have to amend the Constitution. But against this kind of agenda, we have to take a stand. I formerly served a church in Georgia. I think 70 percent of the people of Georgia voted for traditional marriage, and one activist judge overturned the will of 70 percent of the people. That’s what we’re standing against,” Sloop told the AFP after the ceremony.
Also taking part in the rally was Luis Padilla, a Rockingham County man who was fired from his human-resources job at Cargill for posting a message on the back window of his pickup truck encouraging people to vote in favor of the amendment – before being reinstated to his job this week.
“I got my job back because of people – because people know my story, and it was up to them to decide what was justice and what was injustice,” said Padilla, whose story made national headlines.
“It was people who made a difference – calling to Cargill, sending e-mails. It made me feel great – because I am not alone. I have friends to support me. I have this community to support me,” Padilla said.
Padilla said he has no regrets about doing what he did – even at the risk of his job.
“I’m passionate about marriage and the marriage amendment – because I believe that God founded marriage between a man and a woman,” Padilla told the AFP.
Just as passionate about life are Royster and Kinsman – both of whom wonder what their life together will be like if the marriage amendment passes next month.
“It is very frightening to us,” Royster said. “I have no idea whether documents that we have carefully put together to provide for our health care and our financial affairs will continue to be effective. We just don’t know. We’re both blessed in having wonderful families that will support us – but it is very scary to think that all of the things that we have planned together for so long are going to be illegal in the state of Virginia.”
Royster said she thinks amendment supporters are “good people, Christian people, loving people.”
“But they believe somehow that we are evil – and that’s just wrong,” Royster said. “One of the things that I was very clear about wanting to do here was to be just us – Barbara, a little old lady in tennis shoes, 77 years old, Linda. We’re just people who want to live our lives in peace with our neighbors. And that’s all we’re asking here.”
“I think they don’t realize the second part of the amendment and what it will do,” Kinsman told the AFP. “I think they just focus on how so they’re so offended at gay people getting married that they don’t look on to the fact that they may be hurt or their relatives may be hurt if there are two people living together who are not married.
“I fail to see how two people getting married, no matter what sex, hurts them,” Kinsman said. “They say that all the time, but I have never heard them tell me how it hurts them. Family is the most important thing to us. We’ve brought up children, grandchildren, we volunteer, we pay our taxes. I don’t know how we hurt them.”