A scene from City Hall before gay marriage became legal in New York

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Anti-gay-marriage demonstration at City Hall. (Dan Rosenblum)
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Yesterday morning, on a day that would end with same-sex marriage one State Senate vote away from passage in New York State, a group of religious opponents of the new law made what may amount to a last stand at City Hall.

A rabbi slowly walked toward the steps of City Hall, took his place and proceeded to call Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is an enthusiastic supporter of same-sex marriage, a moral arsonist.

“He’s ready to burn down the foundations of society,” said the rabbi, William Handler. He predicted tornadoes, floods and terrorism and compared the five boroughs of New York to the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Handler, a Brooklyn-based rabbi, said he was there to provide moral support for Bishop Joseph Mattera of a political advocacy group called the Christ Covenant Coalition, who was due to lead the rally. The protestors had taken up formation and camera crews set up equipment, though Handler wasn’t in a hurry to begin before Mattera showed up.

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“Without him, nothing will start,” said Handler.

In all, about 60 clergymen, mostly Catholic priests from around the city, turned out for the rally against statewide same-sex marriage legislation, which is predicted to advance this week, before the end of the legislative session. Since the beginning of the week, five Senators, three Democrats and two Republicans, have moved toward support of the bill.

On the City Hall stairs, the rally began with a round of prayers. After that, the speakers tended to shy away from moral and religious arguments, and appealed to the cameras in terms of the effect of same-sex marriage on children, the economy, and liberty from state tyranny.

“When we normalize same-sex marriage, we are in essence saying that a child doesn’t need a mother or doesn’t need a father,” said Mattera. “So we think that that is an insult to all mothers and fathers. We’re surprised that women’s groups aren’t rising up against this. And we believe this is driven more by money that is being funneled into the hands of the governor and state senators, than it is by sociological data.”

“Mayor Bloomberg is on the wrong side of history,” he said, despite steadily rising popular support in New York for same-sex marriage, and political momentum for the legalization bill in Albany. “He’s on the wrong side of psychology. He’s on the wrong side of truth.”

“We need to strengthen the vision of marriage and not redefine it to suit a small number of people who do not even want to marry in this sense. And the fastest growing economies in our nation have marriage amendments, not gay marriage. So that’s important.”

As the protest started, cheers of “Marriage Equality Now!” rang from around a counter-demonstration in City Hall Park, where three-dozen same-sex marriage supporters held a rainbow banner and red balloons. They represented Connecting Rainbows, Queer Rising and other groups in support of gay marriage.

Other speakers at the anti same-sex marriage rally said New York would lose jobs and violate the rights of doctors if it legalized same-sex marriage.

Rev. Duane Motley, a lobbyist for a group called New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, took over the political conversation. The evangelical group (whose stated mission is to “influence legislation and legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ”) has led a heated campaign in recent days to discourage the New York State Senate from passing the bill. He turned toward the assembled religious figures and rallied them to campaign their representatives.

“New York City’s known as the apple, right? I live in apple country. All around my house is apple orchards. We all know about apples. When you get one bad apple in the barrel, it downgrades the whole barrel, and you have to get rid of it. In New York City, you’ve got a half a barrel of bad apples in the legislature. And that’s all your responsibility because that’s where you live. It’s your people. You and people you represent voted them into office. You need to take care of them. You need to vote out the bad apples. “

He urged people at the rally to call their representatives then, toward the end of the rally, spoke directly to the reporters who were there.

“We put out a pretty heavy letter on them this morning,” he said. “It’s all over the press in Albany saying this would be the end of Republican control of the Senate.”

As opponents of the bill left toward Broadway, some members of the counter-rally lingered in the park. One of those was Anna Taylor Sweringen, a same-sex marriage supporter who is a member of All Souls Bethlehem Church in Brooklyn.

“People try to make complex issues simple, and they’re not simple,” Sweringen said. “Everybody in every camp believes sincerely in their heart what they’re saying and wants to prevail. Unless we find win-win solutions, we’re all going to destroy ourselves.

“So on a day like this it’s like typical. There’s no such thing as one side or the other side, there’s ten sides.”

Todd (Tif) Fernandez, who helped coordinate the event and handed out press packets, called it an “independent response,” not a counter-protest.

“The winds are blowing in our favor, we’ve got the wind on our back,” he said. “We’ve got Republicans announcing, we’ve got Democrats who were opposed now on board. We’re a vote or two away, but it seems like we’re gonna win.”