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Opponents, supporters of gay marriage stand their ground in Clayton

After California's ban on gay marriage was tossed out by a judge this week, could Missouri's gay-marriage ban be next?

That fear prompted Frieda Keough to show up in Clayton's Memorial Park on Thursday, homemade sign in hand, to join about 70 others protesting Wednesday's decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. He ruled that California's Proposition 8, approved by voters in 2008, violated the rights of gays and lesbians who wish to marry.

"If one guy can do it in California, nothing to prevent a judge from doing it here," said Keough, of Kirkwood. She added that she wasn't anti-gay, and noted that her daughter is a lesbian.

Keough was referring to Missouri's own gay-marriage ban, overwhelmingly approved by voters in August 2004.

She and other gay-marriage opponents gathered in Clayton for the local stop by the National Organization for Marriage's Summer for Marriage 2010 Tour: One Man One Woman. Organization president Brian Brown, who is traveling in a bus with his wife and six children, said he had expected that Walker's decision would come down during the tour.

Brown told his audience that the ruling was "one of the worst decisions in our judicial history," and that he was particularly offended by gay-marriage advocates who he contended are portraying conservative opponents as "racists and bigots."

Speaker after speaker cast the gay-marriage debate as prompted by a society turning its back on religious and cultural values based on marriage only between a man and a woman.

"Values be damned! tradition be damned! the Constitution be damned!" lamented John Splinter, St. Louis director of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families.

A few yards away stretched at least 150 gay-marriage supporters (organizers contended twice that number) who lined the Central Avenue sidewalk for most of the block to show their support for Walker's decision. County police kept the two sides well apart.

Scott Emanuel, spokesman for Show Me No Hate, a local gay-rights group that organized the counter-demonstration, said, "We know public opinion is shifting in favor of marriage equality. We prove it every time we hold events like this."

He and the Rev. Rebecca Turner, head of Faith Aloud - which supports "sexual and reproductive justice," she said -- emphasized that their aim was to have a peaceful protest. "God doesn't go around excluding people," Turner said.

The gay-rights demonstrators periodically cheered as supportive cars drove by and honked, offering an occasionally noisy backdrop to the smaller traditional-marriage rally.

Several of the conservative speakers, particularly St. Louis Tea Party co-founder Gina Loudon, accused the gay-rights camp of using intimidation to discourage traditional-marriage supporters from showing up.

Loudon said she had gotten threats on her phone, email and in writing from gay-rights activists angered by her critical comments on her daily radio show and her website.

"We are not the ones threatening our culture!" Loudon declared. "They're the ones threatening our culture!"

Loudon and former St. Charles County Executive Joe Ortwerth, who now is executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, compared the gay marriage battle to the nation's decades-long fight over abortion.

Ortwerth asserted that liberals had relied on the courts to legalize abortion, after voters and state governments resisted.

The public generally ignored the abortion-rights camp's efforts, said Ortwerth, until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in 1973 legalizing most abortions. The court's action, he said, sent the message that "we are going to dictate our values to you."

"Once again, we have the same scenario playing itself out," Ortwerth continued. There's only one option for gay-marriage opponents, he said. "We have to rise up!"

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.