Riding on the wave of energy that followed Barack Obama’s election and the spirited protests that followed the passage of Proposition 8 in California, thousands of gay rights supporters rallied outside of City Hall Saturday afternoon in Manhattan to protest the passage of anti-gay ballot measures.

The protest in New York was just one of hundreds held across the United States on Saturday, as well as in ten other countries, according to Join the Impact, one of the main organizations spearheading marriage equality protests. It was the second pro-LGBT marriage equality protest in New York City this week, as a demonstration against the Mormon Church took place on Wednesday evening with thousands attending.

At times people were crunched together because of police barricades, and the action stretched across at least 5 or 6 city blocks. Participants listened to gay rights activists invoke the civil rights movement, the Stonewall Riots, and the election of Barack Obama.

“We will move over, through and beyond Prop. 8,” said Christine Quinn, the first openly gay Speaker of the City Council, as she addressed gay rights activists. “The arc of human history bends towards justice,” she continued.

Demonstrators chanted, “What do we want? Equal Rights! When do we want it? Now!” and “Gay, Straight, Black and White, Marriage is a civil right!” and cheered loudly as trucks honked in approval and tourist buses rode by.

Proposition 8, the ballot measure to ban gay marriage that was narrowly passed in California on Election Day, was the main focus of the protest, as well as other measures passed in Florida, Arizona and Arkansas. Gay marriage was banned in both Florida and Arizona, while in Arkansas voters endorsed a law that bans gay couples from adopting children. On the bright side for gay rights supporters, same-sex marriages in Connecticut have started.

“This is our second Stonewall…we will not be silent,” declared City Council member Rosie Mendez to loud cheers, who represents parts of Lower Manhattan and who is an out lesbian. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 was a seminal moment in the gay rights movement.

The election of Barack Obama was seen by many at the protest to be at a first step in achieving equality throughout the country. When speakers spoke his name, the signature chant of “Yes We Can” echoed throughout the streets surrounding City Hall, and those chants turned into calls of “Yes We Will.”

But some protesters showed no naïveté when it came to Barack Obama’s stance on gay marriage, which he has stated his opposition to. But Obama is fairly strong on many other gay rights issues, and has stated his intention to repeal the Defense of Marriage act that was passed during the Clinton Administration.

“This is one of the first opportunities in my life where I feel like I can affect real change,” said Obama supporter and twenty-seven year old sociology professor at Central Connecticut State University Julie Fenell. But she expected Obama to follow a policy of “benign neglect” when it came to gay equality. She added, “[it’s the job] of the Supreme Court to stand up for the rights of minorities.”

Another Obama supporter, Robert Davignon of Brooklyn, said he understood that Obama “has a lot of cleaning up to do after the Bush Administration…[Gay marriage] could be put on the backburner, as long as it’s on the agenda.”

Protesters were also encouraged to agitate for marriage equality in New York State. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, was a specific target for his stated and long-held opposition to gay rights. Diaz Jr. is one of the senators who is threatening to withhold support from potential Senate Majority leader Malcolm Smith. He told the New York Post, in reference to Malcolm Smith, to “give it to me in writing that you will not bring gay marriage to the floor and you got me.” A speaker at the protest announced Diaz Sr.’s
office phone number and encouraged activists to call on Monday morning to voice their displeasure at Diaz Sr.’s position on gay marriage.

Gov. David Paterson of New York is a supporter of gay marriage, and a couple of months ago he sent out memos to state agencies declaring that same-sex unions performed outside New York are to be recognized in New York. In 2007, the New York State Assembly voted in favor of a measure to allow same-sex marriage in New York, but it never came up for a vote in the State Senate.

“It’s time, New York, time for us to stand up,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, the executive director of Marriage Equality New York.

For more information, see www.jointheimpact.com