Despite a blistering cold morning, more than 20 LGBT activists protested outside of Holy Name Cathedral Feb. 12, a demonstration held in conjunction with National Freedom to Marry Day.
The protest, held every year outside the church around Valentine's Day, carried special weight this year after Catholic Cardinal Francis George compared the annual Pride Parade to a Ku Klux Klan gathering in December.
The pro-gay protesters were greeted by a counter-protest of approximately 10 people on the steps of the Cathedral, who came bearing signs that read "one man, one woman."
Protesters marched outside the church for more than an hour, chanting "equal rights for everybody" and "stop politicizing love."
"This is not an anti-Catholic demonstration," said Andy Thayer of Gay Liberation Network, one of the groups that organized the protest. "This is a demonstration against the Catholic leadership."
While some chanted that George was a "bigot" and "archbigot," others expressed discomfort with the intensity of that message or simply greeted parishioners exiting church rather than chanting.
Blane Roberts of Dignity/Chicago, which also sponsored the protest, wished parishioners a good morning and shook hands with those exiting the church.
"We believe that we're all God's children," Roberts said, adding that Dignity had come to recognize George's apology for his KKK remarks but also challenge him on gay issues.
Activists from Rainbow Sash Movement ( RSM ) also sponsored the event. Executive Director Joe Murray said that RSM had come to show support for marriage equality and also women's healthcare issues.
"We're witnessing the politicizing of theology," Murray said.
The protest fell on the same day that a statement from George opposing President Obama's birth-control insurance policy was read in Catholic churches throughout the city.
But largely, the demonstration focused on marriage equality, with activists noting that just days before, Illinois lawmakers had submitted a marriage quality bill to the General Assembly. Activists have acknowledged that passing such a bill this year might be a long shot, but many expressed hope that 2012 could be the year for marriage equality in Illinois.
"I look forward to marrying the love of my life in the next year," said Kia Walker, a native Chicagoan who wants to eventually marry in her home state. "I shouldn't have to cross the border."
Among the anti-gay protesters this year was Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. LaBarbera came bearing a sign with an arrow pointing to protesters that read "Gay K-K" on one side, and "The Real Haters" on the other side.
Protesters verbally sparred with counter-protesters, but a handful of police kept the two groups apart.
The demonstration drew fewer activists than in past years. Many believed the cold deterred a strong turnout. While the morning temperatures peaked at 25 degrees, the wind chill lingered at approximately 15 degrees.
The protest was supported by the 8th Day Center for Justice and Equality Illinois.