With the sleeves of his white, button-down dress shirt rolled up and his skuffed Pumas untied, nine-year-old Ethan stood on the steps of the state Capitol Saturday afternoon and addressed the more than a hundred people -- some waving rainbow flags -- who'd come to hear him speak. "I believe everybody's equal," he said, reading from a crinkled copy of the speech he'd written.
"Everyone deserves the choice to get married."
Ethan is a third grader at the Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment in west Denver. A few months ago, he had an idea, inspired by his disappointment in the fact that his neighbors, who are gay, can't get married: He would hold a rally -- at the Capitol, no less -- in support of gay marriage. (Read more about Ethan's plan in an earlier blog, "Baseball, soccer, gay-marriage rally: One Denver nine-year-old's Saturday schedule.")
"This is not about a political agenda," said Mindy Barton, legal director at The GLBT Community Center of Colorado, who helped Ethan organize the rally and emceed the event. "This is about what Ethan sees as equality."
After short speeches from five adults -- including openly gay Rep. Mark Ferrandino, Mark Thrun, a Denver doctor who is raising two boys with his partner, and Jean Hodges of Boulder PFLAG -- Ethan took the microphone. While his mother and little sister watched from the sidelines, he concentrated on reciting his speech in a loud and clear voice. Here are some excerpts:
"In the past, different figures in history have improved civil rights, like Martin Luther King and Gandhi," he said. "And things got better. But not for everyone.
"On July 9, 2008, an off-duty police officer threw the first punch in an anti-gay bar fight and smashed a glass in a gay man's face before running off. In school, you're taught that the police are supposed to be your friend. How are you supposed to believe that when you're gay and a police officer just smashed a glass into a gay person's face?
"I don't understand why people seem to think that civil unions are the same as marriage. In civil unions, you don't get the same benefits, such as if your partner dies, you don't get their retirement.
"In conclusion, there is a lot more work to be done regarding marriage equality and equal protection. I hope this rally will make an impact and let our voices be heard."
When Ethan finished, the crowd whooped, cheered and clapped with their hands in the air. The adults thanked him for his vision. "Ethan, you are part of a generation that understands equality," said Hodges, who has a grown son who is gay.
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"It is the young who will win this battle," she added.
Ethan's neighbor, Marsha Miller, was in the crowd. She and her partner live two doors from Ethan in the Lowry neighborhood of Denver with their ten-year-old son. It was partly their family that motivated Ethan to action. "To see a child stand up there brings me hope that a lot of grownups heard that message," Miller said after the rally. "It does warm my heart."
After the rally, plenty of those grownups swarmed Ethan for hugs and congratulatory high-fives. He obliged them all, smiling and posing for pictures and answering reporters' questions.
But you could see he was itching to play. Half an hour after giving the grownups hope for the future, after shaking hands and possibly helping to change policy, Ethan unhooked the wireless microphone he'd been wearing and ran to the grassy hill in front of the Capitol. Along with the classmates who'd come to support him, he got down on his knees and did somersaults all the way down the hill. And then he got up, ran back up and did it again. And again. And again.