Santa Barbara’s queer community celebrated its first “Freedom to Marry Day” on Thursday with speeches and a candlelight vigil.

The Pacific Pride Foundation (PPF), a gay and lesbian resource center, hosted the event at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in response to the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment to the constitution. The gathering attracted around 20 people. It featured several speakers, including Santa Barbara City Council member Helene Schneider, and others who discussed marriage equality and legislation throughout the country that threatens homosexual marriage.

Schneider said she campaigned against Proposition 22, a ballot measure passed in 2000 that denies legal recognition to gay couples married in other states that support gay marriage. Schneider said same-sex marriage is a fundamental right for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

“Marriage is sacred,” Schneider said. “We’re not talking about when Britney Spears has a joke marriage. We’re talking about two people who love and respect each other and should have the right to marry.”

Monica Arrambide, director of LGBT programs at the PPF, said the LGBT faces a long political battle for equal rights.

“The Freedom to Marry Day is an opportunity for the LGBT community’s voice to be heard,” Arrambide said. “It is time to have same-sex relationships recognized and, most of all, to have the nation validate these relationships as they exist in this shared society. To win the political debates and legal challenges that are sure to come, it is essential that we move forward together by telling our stories and educating the public and elected officials about the reality of LGBT individuals, couples and families.”

The Reverend Mark Asman of the Gospel Trinity Church said he is disappointed in the role the religious community has played in support of the amendment.

“There are religious leaders and groups that have used sacred texts to keep women from being able to vote, to take away a woman’s right to choose, and who have opposed interracial marriage,” Asman said. “Now some of those religious leaders are using these texts to oppose LGBT marriage. I believe that any religion or religious leader that seeks to deny human dignity must be questioned. I stand before you as a member of the religious community that supports LGBT right to marry.”

Janet Stanley, executive director of PPF, said marriage is a basic human right for everyone, including homosexuals.

“It is deplorable that anyone would choose to go back on the civil rights movement. We have a right to make these decisions in our own lives,” Stanley said. “We have the right to be treated equally and equitably under the law. We are going to continue to fight for our families, our children and our individuality.”

Jarrod Schwartz, director of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), said a domestic partnership is not equal to a legally binding marriage.

“Marriage is not just about conferring legal rights,” Schwartz said. “Marriage extends powerful social privileges. These privileges cannot be granted through a separate but supposedly equal system [of domestic partnership.]”

Rebecca Rogers and her partner Jennifer Shaw, who attended the gathering, said they are fighting for their rights as Americans.

“My reality is as a partner of Jennifer,” Rogers said. “I own a home; I am raising a child, and it baffles me that I am somehow different. To separate and divide people is sickening to me. I don’t understand discrimination.”

Rogers said legislation prohibiting same-sex marriage would not deter her from marrying her partner.

“I want to marry Jennifer, and it’s going to happen. If I have to move to frickin’ Canada to do it, I will,” Rogers said. “But I’d rather not, because I’m an American citizen under a constitution that is of the people, by the people and for the people.”

PPF also held a candlelight vigil at the courthouse. Arrambide said the moment of silence was to “recognize those couples who have passed away without their love being recognized.”

Gary Reinecke, a senior business economics and sociology major and administrative assistant for PPF, said marriage should be a matter of love, not gender.

“Marriage on a civil rights level and on a human rights level is about love, and I believe in my heart that anyone sharing in that extreme power of love should have the power to get married,” Reinecke said.

Rogers said protesting the proposed federal marriage amendment is comparable to activism for other civil rights.

“This [event] is terrific. It’s all about activism. Things don’t change by sitting on the couch; you have to stand up. If I don’t do anything, I’m not going to expect other people to make my bed for me,” Rogers said. “You can’t make rules about love, just like you can’t make rules about where you sit on a bus or where you can drink from a fountain. Segregation helps no one.”