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Gay Marriage Cheered at Marcus Garvey Park Amid Religious Criticism

By Tom Liddy | June 25, 2011 7:25pm | Updated on June 26, 2011 10:03am

By Paul Lomax, Tim Gorta and Tom Liddy


HARLEM - New Yorkers flocked to Marcus Garvey Park Saturday to show their pride and celebrate the historic legalization of gay marriage in the state - despite the vocal opposition of some local church leaders.

"I am very happy!" said a beaming Jacqueline Jackman. "I feel that all people have the right to get married without anyone questioning or voting about it.

"For me as a a lesbian, it's about respect. After last night's vote, I think people will appreciate what we have been campaigning about all these years!"

A bill legalizing same-sex marriage was signed into law Friday night, making New York the sixth state to codify the right for gay people.

Earlier in the month, some neighborhood pastors came forward to say the Harlem Pride event should not be celebrated in the park.

Marcus Garvey Park was a symbol of peace Saturday at the Harlem Pride Festival.
Marcus Garvey Park was a symbol of peace Saturday at the Harlem Pride Festival.
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Paul Lomax

"If children start to believe it is OK to be gay, they will think it's OK to be a pedophile or have sex with animals," said Dr. Ronald Ferguson, senior pastor at Antioch Church of God on West 124th Street, according to the Daily News.

And yesterday, a pair of nuns walking by echoed the reverend's sentiments.

"This is against nature!" said Sister Thomas, of All Saints Church in Harlem. "Gay people are lower than the birds, animals and all other creatures on God's earth!"

A fellow nun, Sister Catherine added, "I'm against the [gay marriage] bill! I think it's against the sanctity and holiness of God's cosmic plan!"

But that didn't stop people from enjoying the sunshine and the newly-established rights.

"I was a little hesitant about coming out to Harlem for Pride, but I'm so glad that I finally came out!" Justin Rayburn, 23, originally from Kentucky and living in East Harlem, said. "There's so much celebration and love going around and we're making gay history beautiful! I couldn't be prouder!"

Henry Peralta, 42, who works at Columbia University, shrugged off the Catholic Church's condemnation of same-sex marriage.

"This is a wonderful event!" he said. "What the Catholic Church has said is predictable, disgusting and nasty! It's totally un-Christian!"

The former archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan, has called gay marriage a "great mistake," according to WABC/Channel 7.

But Joseph Tolton, 43, the pastor at Harlem's Rehoboth Temple Christ Conscious Church, where the congregation is predominantly LGBT, said that he was overjoyed with the legislation's passage.

"I'm absolutely elated," he said. "There is something to the idea of having your relationship sanctioned by the state and where your rights are not unequal or inferior. Now we can take our relationships more seriously."

On hand for the event, which featured artists and information about gay advocacy groups, were Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and state Sen. Tom Duane, who gave an emotional speech on the senate floor Friday night discussing his personal struggles with being openly homosexual.

Justin Rayburn, 23, of East Harlem said:
Justin Rayburn, 23, of East Harlem said: "There's so much celebration and love going around and we're making gay history beautiful! I couldn't be prouder!"
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Paul Lomax

"I was very happy about last night! I always believed the day would come!" Duane told DNAinfo. "This is my first visit to the Harlem Pride event and I can tell you right now I'll coming here every year from now on! I can't wait to march with pride [Sunday]!"

For Nina, a bartender at the Lenox Lounge, the gay marriage bill was an important step in terms of advancing rights for all minorities.  

"We as black people fought for our rights for so long, we should fight for the rights of other oppressed people," she said. "What we were fighting for was not just black rights but equal rights.

"I'm glad that [gay people] got [the right to marry], especially in New York, a place that's so diverse."