USM's Gay Straight Alliance participated in a national protest Saturday afternoon on the south sidewalk of Hardy Street in response to California voters' approval of Propostion 8, an amendment to the state's Constitution defining marriage as being between a male and a female.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, 60 percent of California voters supported a similar proposition during the 2000 elections, when Proposition 22 defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. In May, the California Supreme Court overturned that proposition and thousands of same-sex couples married in the following months.
During the elections two weeks ago, 52.2 percent of voters, over 6 million people supported the new proposition, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
Anna Davis, a senior public relations major from Houston, said the GSA held the protest in Hattiesburg because, while Mississippi legislation supporting gay marriage may be "far-fetched," the amendment in California ruined a dream for many in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
"You would think, at least in California, we would have equality," Davis said. "So it's kind of a slap in the face, and not just for California, but for everybody A lot of people move out there because they think they're going to be equal, but then something like Prop. 8 passes."
Davis said the amendment is comparable to discrimination, and that calling same-sex marriage a civil union is an example of "separate but equal."
"Separate but equal has never worked," Davis said. "You'd think we would learn from our history."
When the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May, it based the ruling on a 60-year-old precedent that overturned a California ban on interracial marriage, according to a Los Angeles Times article.
Ronald Beasley, a junior history major from Waynesboro, Miss., said the local protest Saturday was an act of opposition against Proposition 8 and similar propositions in Arizona and Florida. Perhaps a million protestors participated in the opposition in more than 300 cities, he added.
Beasley and Davis are two of the three-person council that heads GSA at Southern Miss. They have both been in their fair share of protests before.
Beasley, who went to a July protest in Washington, D.C., said the rally Saturday "had a more local feel to it."
"I think I knew 80 percent of the people who were there," Beasley said. "I could see people I knew and they knew each other, and they were feeding off each other and just getting louder and louder."
He added that an estimated 50 people participated in the Hardy Street protest against Prop. 8. There were also several spectators watching from the Southern Miss campus.
Shane Holman, a senior political science major from Tampa, Fla., said most passers-by were "enthusiastic and supportive."
"We got support from people just driving down the road, honking and cheering," Holman said. "I was really expecting people to be on the other side protesting, and I really didn't see much opposition to the protest."
Initially, the protest was set to take place on the front lawn of Southern Miss' main entrance, Davis said.
In a meeting before the rally, the director of student activities and representatives from UPD showed Davis and Holman a copy of an e-mail sent to local churches and religious groups, including the time, location, and purpose of the rally.
The on-campus event was denied due to safety concerns, so the GSA informed Hattiesburg Police they would hold the protest on the city-side of Hardy Street across from campus, Dais said.
"It would have been better, maybe, if the school had been able to support us, but I don't think they made a bad decision," Davis added. "They had the student body's safety in mind, but I do think they overreacted."
Davis said the university officials' decision did not seriously affect the turnout. As a precaution, Davis said she encouraged protestors to be respectful of other religions and groups in their chants and signs, especially since "over half our number is Christian or religiously affiliated."
"After this past weekend, I'm seeing a lot of people coming out in support, people who are against Prop. 8," Davis said. She added that legal disputes like this may be a catalyst in the national dialogue over gay rights.