ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Four members of the anti-gay extremist Westboro Baptist Church were met by 250 counter-protesters on Wednesday morning when they arrived outside the Anne Arundel Circuit Court building in Annapolis to protest the state’s recently enacted marriage equality law.
The counter-protest, organized by the local St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, included members from more than a half dozen churches, and students from nearby Annapolis High School carrying signs with messages such as “make love not hate” and “love is more divine than hate.”
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of WBC’s founder Fred Phelps, sang homophobic songs and shouted that God had sent Newtown, Conn., shooter Adam Lanza as punishment for Connecticut legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Their whole organization is offensive,” said Adam Walden, 16. “They were here to preach hate, we were there to preach love.”
“When people came to our city to preach hate, we stood up to them,” said Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen. “It was a beautiful scene.”
WBC protesters had also planned a second protest in front of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse in Towson, Md., later in the morning, and were met by dozens of counter-protesters there as well. Cheers erupted when the group departed earlier than planned, reported The Baltimore Sun.
“You’re not welcome here!” one woman shouted as Westboro members walked away from the courthouse.
Maryland’s voters upheld a ballot initiative that legalized same-sex marriage in November, however the law did not take effect until Tuesday, January 1. Since government offices around the state were closed for New Year’s Day, Wednesday was the first time couples could marry inside the courthouse.
Based in Topeka, Kan., the Westboro church is not affiliated with the Baptist denomination or any other Baptist church. According to news reports, almost all of its members — fewer than 100 — are related to founder Fred Phelps either by blood or marriage.
The hate group is best known for its protest of the funerals of U.S. service members, and first came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it picketed at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was brutally attacked on the night of October 6, 1998, then tied to a fence and left to die.
An online petition to the White House to have the Obama administration classify Westboro as a hate group has attracted more than 300,000 signatures as of December 31, 2012.