Locals rally for same-sex marriage, counter Westboro protesters
Four members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas protested in downtown Rochester today on the first day of legal same-sex marriage in Minnesota as more than 100 counter protesters swarmed them on city street corners.
The protest had been announced on Westboro's website weeks ago, and supporters of same-sex marriage showed up in droves once news spread of the group's presence. More than 100 people of all ages, sexual orientation and backgrounds lined downtown sidewalks with signs to voice their beliefs.
Many in the group were dressed in outlandish outfits with creative or funny signs and chants, including at least two that referenced former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe's new book titled "Beautifully unique sparkleponies," which articulates his support of gay rights.
"I've noticed that the Westboro folks tend to use Scripture a lot, mostly out of context," said Rochester's Andy Pittenger, who said he stayed up all night crafting his Jesus outfit. "They focus on the hate. I focus on … the love."
The unaffiliated Baptist church, which has 43 members and is dubbed a hate group by many, showed up on the corner outside the city-county Government Center about 7:15 a.m. carrying signs with such slogans as "God h8s fags" and other messages.
Security monitors protests
Two Rochester police officers were waiting for their arrival, and news spread quickly as same-sex marriage supporters began streaming into the site in an attempt to drown out Westboro's message. More than a dozen law enforcement and security were on hand later at Mayo Clinic to ensure the protest and counter protest remained peaceful. There were no physical altercations, but some humorous interaction did occur.
One man countered Westboro's controversial sign with a sign that read "Sweaters hate snags." Another brandished a bag of Skittles while asking, "Who wants to taste the rainbow?"
"They can say what they want want as long as they don't act out on each other," said Rochester Police Lt. Bruce Sheridan, who periodically cleared protesters from the sidewalks to allow people to get to work.
Timothy Phelps, one of the four Westboro members, called such tactics "white noise" as he held two signs aloft.
"What the Scripture calls desolation and an abomination, you've got Minnesota now authorizing," said Phelps, who said other church members were holding similar protests in Rhode Island and elsewhere. "We still have to warn against that terrible sin … but the rest of you will be condemned.
"All of this is written in the book. If all these people weren't so Bible dumb, we wouldn't have to do this."
The group focused most of its ire at the Mayo Clinic. The largest employer in the state was one of the first to recognize gay rights, offering those employees equal rights since 2000.
Dozens stopped to gawk at the scene at Mayo Clinic as the two groups protested for more than two hours before Westboro left to protest in St. Paul.
"(Mayo is) in the vanguard of this filth," Phelps said. "They think they're so fluffy and smart; they think they can countermand their creator."
The crowd eventually dispersed peacefully, with a quick blessing from Pittenger in his Jesus outfit.
"Go with God, my children," Pittenger said.
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