Downtown vigil backs marriage equality

By Sean Barron


Amber Bell and Mara Brandenstein are a gay couple who enjoy activities such as going out to eat and to movies, riding bicycles and spending time outdoors.

They have a solid four-year relationship, take pleasure in everyday gatherings and are like most couples — which they say is precisely the point.

“We trust each other; we care about each other more than you can imagine,” said Brandenstein, a Youngstown State University political-science major with a minor in entrepreneurship.

Brandenstein and Bell, a YSU biology major from Sandy Lake, Pa., started dating in high school after having met as members of their school’s band.

They also were among an estimated 50 gay and straight people who attended a candlelight vigil Tuesday in front of the Thomas D. Lambros Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, 125 Market St., downtown. The gathering was to show solidarity regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard about 80 minutes of oral arguments pertaining to California’s Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment voters approved in November 2008 that bans such marriages.

Nevertheless, about 58 percent of Americans, including 81 percent of people age 18 to 29, believe gay marriage should be legal, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.

Brandenstein said that she and Bell have experienced hatred and discrimination because of their relationship, including a few threats from certain members of Bell’s family. Making matters worse, someone in the Mercer County, Pa., district attorney’s office refused to help Brandenstein after learning the couple was gay, she contended.

“She told me, ‘Wait a minute, hold on. You made a choice,’” Brandenstein said. “Then she refused to talk to me and slammed the door in my face.”

Those at the vigil expressed hope the Supreme Court would rule in favor of what they see as marriage equality and equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“Keep hope alive; keep the struggle going,” said Atty. Kim Akins, a member of Pride Youngstown, which hosted the event.

Sgt. Anita Davis of the Youngstown Police Department and a fellow Pride Youngstown member, said she hopes this outcome will be like that of Loving v. Virginia, a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down laws banning interracial marriages in the U.S.

“Proposition 8 is discrimination based on discrimination. It’s like a witch hunt,” she added.

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