More than 200,000 religious Christians marched against gay rights in Puerto Rico on Monday in the largest such demonstration in the history of the US commonwealth.
Gathering in front of San Juan’s Capitol building, hundreds of thousands of Christian Puerto Ricans stopped traffic while defending “traditional marriage” and protesting against the idea of granting gay couples legal rights.
“Traffic was snarled for miles leading toward the San Juan islet as buses packed with marchers headed toward the north side of the Capitol,” described the Puerto Rican-based Caribbean Business. The mass demonstration, which took just three weeks to organize, drew in protesters from all types of Christian denominations who oppose same-sex marriage. And while some simply rallied against the idea of same-sex marriage, many were opposed to granting any rights to gay couples – including protections against violence.
Some lawmakers are seeking to pass an amendment to the Domestic Violence Act 54 to make the conditions of the legislation apply to all couples, gay or straight.
“It is a measure of justice and a desire that all citizens have equal access to protection from assault, intimidation, or potential domestic violence in their relationships,” Puerto Rican Sen. Luis Vega Ramos told reporters last Thursday.
But in Puerto Rico, massive opposition to the move could prevent gay couples from receiving any sort of protections. The wave of protesters, blaring gospel music and brandishing large posters, alleged that the proposed legislation would discriminate against the church.
“We are concerned that laws will be created to discriminate against the church… We are concerned that public education will be used to change our children, presenting them with behaviors their parents don’t think are correct,” said Pastor Cesar Vazquez Muñiz, a spokesman of Puerto Rico for the Family, in an interview with El Vocero. “This demonstration tells the government that there are things that they cannot touch and those are marriage and family.”
Rep. Ramón Luis Nieves has also introduced legislation that would ban employment and housing discrimination based on someone’s sexual preference. But protesters are even opposed to that initiative, claiming that there are more important issues that politicians should be working on instead.
“We chose [these politicians] to do other things – to improve the economy, to reduce crime, to help health and education – but not to change something as fundamental as marriage, [which] is between a man and a woman, and the family that is born of that relationship,” said Pastor Cesar Vazquez in a speech in front of the masses. “Politicians count the numbers, and the numbers are here.”
Monday’s protest was the largest anti-gay gathering in the history of the US commonwealth. The rally offended members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, some of whom held a small counter protest that went largely unnoticed.
Puerto Rican human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano called the rally “full of hate and intolerance”, while Pastor Yenen Silén told Univision Puerto Rico that he has always had a problem with the church’s stance.
“One of the struggles I’ve had with the church is its sexist and homophobic message, and obviously when I see that they are using the resources they have to promote discrimination I cannot stay quiet because that is not the message of God,” the pastor said.
Some Puerto Rican legislators have expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage, while still advocating for protections for gay couples. The country remains largely divided over an issue that is controversial, especially among the religious.