March for equality draws a crowd in D.C.

MARCH FOR EQUALITY DRAWS A CROWD IN D.C…. It didn’t have a cable news outlet promoting the event for months, and it didn’t have Dick Armey and other corporate lobbyists sending in activists by the thousands, but the Equality Across America event on the D.C. mall yesterday drew a reasonably big crowd, and delivered an important message.

Tens of thousands of gay-rights activists marched Sunday in Washington to show President Obama and Congress that they are impatient with what they consider piecemeal progress and are ready to fight at the federal level for across-the-board equality, including for the right to marry and the right to serve in the military.

Key votes on same-sex marriage are coming up in the District and Maine, and Obama reiterated his campaign promise Saturday to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that forces gay and lesbian members of the armed forces to keep their sexual orientation a secret.

But organizers of the National Equality March and its participants said they want to shift the political effort toward seeking equality in all states, rather than accepting just local and state-level victories.

This was the fifth major gay rights march in D.C., though it was the first since 2000. The AP noted that previous events “included many celebrity performances and drew as many as 500,000 people,” while yesterday’s gathering “was driven by grassroots efforts.”

As for turnout, getting reliable numbers for any such event is always tricky. The New York Times reported, “The organizers were rating the march a success, saying that at least 150,000 people had attended, though the authorities gave no official estimate of the crowd size.” The AP added, “Washington authorities don’t disclose crowd estimates at rallies, though the crowd appeared to number in the tens of thousands, overflowing from the Capitol lawn.”

Either way, the march comes at a key moment in the larger drive for equality. Gay marriage, for example, is now legal in several states, though efforts are underway to scale back those victories. President Obama is committed to advancing the broader cause, including repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but progress is slow.

Here’s hoping policymakers noticed yesterday’s gathering and act accordingly.