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Publicly announcing they were stepping into the battle for same-sex marriage, a crowd of over 50 African American activists and religious leaders gathered in historic Leimert Park in South Central Los Angeles on March 18. They challenged Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn to formally oppose the federal constitutional marriage amendment. And they demanded that California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer stop his attempts to outlaw same-sex marriage.

The event was organized by Jasmyne Cannick from the National Black Justice Coalition, who said: "The Black community is too smart and too strong to be divided over this issue. The fight for marriage equality is
a civil right."

"We cannot allow the U.S. Constitution to be used to deny people their rights," said Vallerie Wagner, a longtime lesbian activist. "This fight is about the 1,049 civil rights denied same-sex couples," said Executive Director Lisa Powell of United Lesbians of African Heritage.

Phil Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, said: "As an African American, this issue is simple. I believe in one America with one set of rights, privileges and responsibilities for all citizens. I think African Americans should resist at all cost any effort to codify the notion of different classes of citizenship."

Jewel and Rue Williams, an African American couple for 16 years, spoke on how legal recognition of their relationship would enable them to provide for each other as they grew older.

Ebony Lane and her transgender partner thanked both the LGBT and African American communities for uniting on this issue, and urged that all stay united in the fight against discrimination and for equality.

--Joe Delaplaine

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