Clad in orange shirts, a group of about 50 demonstrators held signs with slogans such as “My God is not a hater” and “Love makes a family” outside of City Hall Monday afternoon. The signs were part of a rally in support of gay rights staged by members of the New Haven group Project Orange.

The rally was in response to National Marriage Protection Week, designated by President Bush as an attempt to preserve the sanctity of the institution of marriage. The week includes outreach to over 200,000 churches, national radio broadcasts and public events including speeches by family and religious advocates. The project runs from Oct. 12 to 18.

Several national traditional family values groups called for rallies on Sunday, Oct. 10, the fifth anniversary of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepherd. Some Project Orange members questioned the motives of these groups, and said the timing was inappropriate.

“It’s really sick,” Project Orange coordinator Alyssa Rosenberg ’06 said. “We need to stand up and say that this kind of message is not acceptable in New Haven.”

According to the organizers, the event had several purposes, including protesting anti-gay-rights activism, mobilizing support for the city of New Haven domestic partnership amendment, and endorsing incumbent Ben Healey ’04 for the Ward 1 aldermanic seat.

The Domestic Partnership Amendment failed to pass before the Board of Aldermen last spring. The proposition would have granted non-married couples — same-sex or heterosexual — access to certain rights and benefits, including a registry that would allow them to obtain legal proof of their relationship.

The controversial amendment met with vocal opposition and lost by only one vote.

“I was disappointed when the amendment failed,” Rosenberg said. “A lot of the aldermen who didn’t vote for the amendment probably thought it was a good thing.”

Project Orange participants said they hope that by getting an earlier start this year, they can ensure the amendment’s passage.

“This is our kick-off event for the year,” said Helena Herring ’07, a member of Project Orange.

The rally also included the group’s first public endorsement of Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey’s reelection campaign, a reversal of an earlier decision to remain neutral in the election. In the past, Healey has received criticism for not mobilizing sufficient support for the amendment and his endorsement has met with resentment from at least one Project Orange member.

“Without advance notice, a domestic partnership coalition became a re-elect Healey effort,” Ward 29 alderman Lindy Gold said in an e-mail. “How pathetic it is to see our coalition turn into a selective, partisan venture for a single candidate.”

Healey’s opponent, Dan Kruger ’04, also expressed disappointment at Project Orange’s decision.

“I’ve been on record since early July as supporting their agenda,” said Kruger. “I think [the endorsement] is unfortunate,” Kruger said.

Rosenberg, however, defended the group’s endorsement of Healey. “Ben is one of the founding members of Project Orange,” she said. “He put his political career on the line for us.”

Both candidates agreed the importance of the cause superceded their political disagreements.

“This is a civil rights issue,” said Healey. “This is about the sort of community we want New Haven to be.”

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