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Mayor rejects official welcome as Colorado Springs gears up for mass wedding at PrideFest


Linda Randolph, left, married Julie Krueger last month in - Provincetown, Mass. Rev. Nori Rost, of the Universal - Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church in Colorado - Springs, presided over the same-gender marriage of the - Larkspur couple.
  • Linda Randolph, left, married Julie Krueger last month in Provincetown, Mass. Rev. Nori Rost, of the Universal Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church in Colorado Springs, presided over the same-gender marriage of the Larkspur couple.

Julie Krueger has married the same woman three times.

A month ago, the Larkspur resident and her soul mate, Linda Randolph, tied the knot in Provincetown, Mass. In February, the couple exchanged vows in San Francisco. And last year, they were married in Toronto.

"The reason we've done it so many times is to cover our bases," said the 42-year-old technology vice president for a credit-card company.

None of the weddings are legally recognized in Colorado, where marriage is defined as between man and a woman.

Yet Krueger and Randolph will participate in a symbolic wedding ceremony Sunday at Acacia Park.

Dubbed as "Colorado's first mass same-sex wedding," the event is part of the 14th annual PrideFest and Parade and will follow a protest action Friday in which more than 20 same-gender couples will descend on the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder's office to ask for marriage licenses.

They will be denied.

"The statute says that marriage can only be between a man and a woman," said Clerk & Recorder Bob Balink. His employees, he said, have been instructed to hand out copies of the statute to any gays and lesbians who seek a marriage license and politely refuse their request.

"They're not trying to be mean to us, and we're not trying to be mean to them," Balink said. "They are just doing what they think is fair."

Snubbed by Council

Because of the planned protested action, for the first time in eight years the city's annual gay PrideFest won't receive an official welcome by the city.

Instead the protests -- which have been endorsed by PrideFest's organizers -- have led Mayor Lionel Rivera and members of the City Council to reject a proclamation supporting PrideFest.

Last year, Rivera signed the proclamation -- which led to severe criticism of him by religious conservatives, including Focus on the Family. This year, Rivera said he opted to reject the official welcome because of the planned protests, a departure from the celebratory focus of past events.

But Ryan Acker, interim director of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center, criticized the mayor's decision. Acker says it's important to show respect for all people, regardless of their lifestyles.

"It's important for Colorado Springs to make a statement," Acker said. "Unfortunately, they used the excuse of some events."

This year's PrideFest is dubbed "Embracing Diversity, Equality -- Our Humanity" and includes events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

A 'stand for righteousness'

Rivera's refusal to sign the proclamation was praised as a "stand for righteousness" by Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family in a press release issued shortly after Rivera's decision last week.

Beforehand, Rivera had conducted an informal poll of council members, an unusual action he said was necessary because the proclamation, worded by Acker, included language suggesting that the entire City Council supported the event. Seven members of the council were opposed to the proclamation and two were for it.

Mike Haley, Focus on the Family's director of gender issues, said last year's PrideFest proclamation should not have been issued because "homosexuality should not be promoted by any means."

He was glad to see the city oppose the proclamation this year.

"Obviously, last year Focus was very opposed to that situation," Haley said. "We made our voices very known. I think this year it's become much more than a pride parade. It's become a political statement."

Concerns about image

Gay rights advocates, such as Rev. Nori Rost, an elder for the Pikes Peak chapter of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Church, say the image of the city is being harmed in what has become a pattern of failing to support gays and lesbians.

"I'd say Colorado Springs is in many senses in the eye of the storm in that so much of the rhetoric and the struggle against same-sex marriages and equal rights for all people comes from organizations that are headquartered here," Rost said. Colorado Springs is the national headquarters to dozens of religious organizations.

The City Council's actions have before proved controversial to supporters of gay rights. Last April, the council did away with domestic benefits for gay and lesbian city employees. The benefits had been created roughly five months earlier in a 5-4 City Council vote. But after spring 2003 elections, in which conservative religious groups were widely credited as helping elect a new council, just one of those who had voted in favor of the benefits remained on the council -- Vice Mayor Richard Skorman.

However, Rivera said he was not influenced by Focus on the Family or other religious groups.

"I get lobbied every single day by somebody, whether it's Focus on the Family or whether it's other groups in the community," Rivera said, "so I make my decisions not based on lobbying efforts, but on what I think is best for Colorado Springs, and, of course, my own principles and values."

The decision disappointed the two council members that favored issuing the proclamation -- Skorman and Councilman Scott Hente. While not enamored with the planned protests, Hente said the decision was out of step with the city's best interests.

"I know what corporations that consider locating in Colorado Springs say to me privately," Hente said. "They say they like communities that are open to ideas, all individuals. I think what we should do is move in that direction."

Skorman noted that the proclamation could have been issued with a statement that the city did not approve of the protests. Many participating in PrideFest probably won't be part of the marriage protests, he noted, and by denying the proclamation, the city appears to be punishing them.

"The majority of people are going to be there to take pride in who they are and not be ashamed of who they are and who they love and I think it's very positive," Skorman said.

Valid relationships

Rost doesn't deny there is a political message in the planned marriage ceremony.

"What we want to do is counteract the national attention that Focus on the Family and others of their ilk have put on gay marriage in a negative way and bring a more positive understanding of what same-sex marriages might look like," Rost said. "We want to point out the fact that our relationships are equally valid and important to the larger community."

Meantime, Acker, of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, said he is not as optimistic as he was back in October -- when he was given a cordial tour of Focus on the Family's headquarters -- that gaps between the two organizations can be bridged.

Acker said he was shocked when Focus on the Family used its press release to describe his organization as a "radical activist group that dragged our city through unnecessary battles in the past over the issue of health benefits for the same-sex partners of city employees."

-- Cara DeGette contributed to this report.

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