WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of gay rights activists marched Sunday in Washington to show President Obama and Congress that they are impatient with what they consider piecemeal progress and are ready to fight at the federal level for across-the-board equality, including for the right to marry and the right to serve in the military.
Key votes on same-sex marriage are coming up in Washington, D.C., and Maine, and Obama promised Saturday to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that forces gay and lesbian members of the armed forces to keep their sexual orientation a secret.
But organizers of the National Equality March and participants said they want to shift the political effort toward seeking equality in all states, rather than settling for local and state-level victories.
"We're not settling," said Cleve Jones, co-chairman of the march and founder of the Names Project, the AIDS memorial quilt that recognizes Americans who have died from HIV/AIDS. "There's no such thing as a fraction of equality. We want equal protection under the law."
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The march was coordinated by Equality Across America, a group that formed this year. Organizers said they represent those who want immediate fundamental change in the legal status of gays, as opposed to those who think patience is needed as legal obstacles are overcome.
Thousands of people marched from McPherson Square, a few blocks from the White House, down Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting "President Obama, let mama marry mama!" and "L, G, B, T, we demand equality."
Marchers carried signs reading "We Won't Wait for Full Equality" and "Mind Your Own Marriage." They spanned the spectrum of a movement that makes a point of including people of different lifestyles — a teacher from Pennsylvania who said she was afraid to give her name because she feared retaliation at work, preppy-looking professionals from the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, skimpily dressed self-described "radical faeries" and a leather-clad man from the D.C. Bear Club.