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Last updated: Tue. Jul. 02, 2013 - 02:00 pm EDT

Marriage views duel

Rivals sing songs, air views at separate Courthouse rallies

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Gay pride flags fluttered and signs bobbed up and down Monday afternoon as a large crowd of supporters filled the sidewalks surrounding the front of the Allen County Courthouse.

On the south lawn, an even larger group surrounded a podium where speakers from local churches discussed marriage, the Bible and the role of marriage in religion.

Both groups met on the grounds of the courthouse Monday in response to last week's Supreme Court decision about the Defense of Marriage Act.

A chorus of "Jesus Loves Me" by the Rally for Equality group was met with "God Bless America" from the Stand Up for Marriage Rally supporters.

Onlookers, some with small children in tow, watched from the background, taking in the sight of local residents reacting to the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

On Wednesday, the court struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, declaring that gay couples married in states where it is legal must receive the same federal health, tax, Social Security and other benefits that heterosexual couples receive.

Police provided crowd estimates of roughly 600 people – 200 stood along Main and Clinton streets, some with rainbow flags and signs with messages about equality, and another 400 gathered in the center lawn.

Pastor Wendell Brane of Trinity Evangelical Church began his talk with his wife, Terry, at his side.

"This is what a biblical marriage looks like," Brane said, as the crowd surrounding the podium erupted applause. "One man, one wife."

Brane said the Bible describes marriage as heterosexual, monogamous and committed.

"The teachings of Jesus all speak with one voice, telling that us that marriage is between one man and one woman," he said.

Issues of polygamy, same-sex marriage and no-fault divorce undermine the institution of marriage, Brane said.

"They must all be condemned from our pulpits," he said. " … We need to have the courage and the will to keep the faith and speak the truth boldly and clearly."

Rev. Peter Scaer, a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary who served as the pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Arcadia, spoke to the crowd, several dozen with children, about the role marriage plays in a child's development.

"Indeed, the best gift a child can have is a mom and dad," he said.

Scaer added that although opposite-sex parents provide children the best chance to a good future, there's still plenty of blame to go around.

"We haven't treated marriage well. It's easy to father a child, but it's a lot of work to actually be a father. Our divorce rates are too high and as Christians, frankly, we haven't done much better," he said. "Without fathers, too many boys become violent; too many young men lack direction. Without fathers, too many girls lack self-esteem and as families fall apart, ever-growing government steps in to fill the void.

"Granted, we have an epidemic of fatherlessness, but same-sex marriage doesn't solve the problem. It institutionalizes it."

Scaer spoke briefly to the gay marriage and equality supporters gathered along South Clinton Street, saying that he and his fellow Christians harbor no ill will toward them individually.

"We understand the difficulties of life. As fallen creatures, we worship a God of grace, mercy and peace," he said. "He said this is not about hate. That's too easy. Our grandparents believed in traditional marriage and they weren't haters."

Throughout most of the rally, Glenna Jehl, a Fort Wayne Community Schools board member, and Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries stood among the supporters of traditional marriage.

Across the lawn, Jack Ellsworth carried a sign and a horse with a rainbow tail attached to a pole as he shouted at cars passing by, encouraging them to honk in support.

His sign read "If I like it, I should be allowed to put a ring on it," referencing lyrics to a popular song called "Single Ladies" performed by singer Beyoncé Knowles.

Next to him, Jon Maroney of Woodburn, held a sign that read "Being gay is not an abomination – bigotry is."

"I'm here today for love," Ellsworth said. "I'm in support of equal rights and equal love."

Ellsworth, of Fort Wayne, said he views the Supreme Court's decision to strike down DOMA as a sign that Americans want change.

"People want to be respected for who they are and who they love," he said.

Ellsworth said many drivers on South Clinton Street had stopped to give a thumbs-up or to honk their horns in support of the Rally for Equality.

Supporters, including members of Fort Wayne Pride and Fort Wayne Equality lined the streets, some wearing colorful outfits and others shouting and waving to passers-by.

Thaddeus Gerardot, founder of Fort Wayne Equality, stood among the supporters, waving a flag with a rainbow pattern as cars drove by.

Gerardot, of Fort Wayne, described the change that's taken place since he was a young gay man, waiting for the "right moment" to come out of the closet.

"Back then, I was in the closet, and I grew up hearing all of these really negative things about being gay and homosexuality," he said. "This message wasn't out there. There wasn't this positive support."

Gerardot said he hopes rallies like Monday's encourage gay individuals to support the cause and not fear that they will be criticized for their beliefs.

"Right now, especially in our state, we need to have these conversations," he said. "Because there may come a time soon when people need to choose on a ballot (which side they support) and we need them to see there are two sides to this."

jcrothers@jg.net

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