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Protesters call on Onorato to change gay marriage views

With just weeks remaining in the state legislative session, hundreds of people packed Athens Park in Astoria Sunday to urge state Sen. George Onorato (D−Astoria) to reverse his stance opposing gay marriage rights.

More than 300 people, many from Onorato’s Senate district, clamored for the 80−year−old senator to support a bill passed by the state Assembly last month that would make New York the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.

“This used to be known as the Archie Bunker district,” said City Councilman Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside). “Well, I don’t know if Archie Bunker ever lived here, but he doesn’t anymore.”

Onorato, who has said he supports civil unions but is against gay marriage, could be a pivotal vote if the state Senate chooses to bring the bill to a vote before the end of the legislative session later this month.

Longtime partners Caroline Peacock and Lauren Marcewicz, who last year adopted their 3−year−old daughter Abigail, said the inability to get married could have a major impact on raising their child because they are forced to register for things like health insurance and tax forms as “single.”

“We exist whether or not the state recognizes us,” Peacock said. “When will the time come? We need and deserve the same protection, the same rights as everyone else.”

The Rev. Louis Braxton, who runs a shelter for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers in Astoria, said the state already recognizes gay marriages performed in other states and said allowing them to be performed would change little.

“Nothing in passing marriage equality will require that rabbis, priests, pastors or any other religious figure will have to perform gay marriages,” Braxton said.

Following the rally, Onorato released a statement saying while he understands gay marriage is a deeply emotional issue, he remains opposed to its legalization.

“While I remain personally opposed to the same−sex marriage legislation that has been introduced in the Legislature, I do not at all object to its being brought to the floor for a vote by the full Senate,” Onorato said. “My understanding is that the bill will be brought to the floor when and if there is enough support to pass it, and I will not make any attempt to deter my colleagues, regardless of where they stand, from having the opportunity to vote on it.”

Lobbying efforts have heated up on both sides of the controversial issue in recent weeks. Last Thursday, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, launched a statewide $100,000 radio and television ad campaign in the hopes of derailing support for the bill.

National Organization for Marriage President Maggie Gallagher said the group is lobbying in 25 state Senate districts, including Onorato’s.

“Marriage really matters because children need a mom and dad,” Gallagher said. “New Yorkers do not want government redefining marriage for our children or grandchildren. We do not want public schools teaching first graders that gay marriage is OK. That’s a decision that should be left to parents and our values.”

At Sunday’s rally, Marriage Equality for New York organizers urged attendees to write to Onorato and other senators around the state to build up support for the bill.

“This moment in history has been a long time coming,” Astoria resident and gay rights activist Brendan Fay told the crowd. “The long night of inequality is near over. Let’s make it happen now.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

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