“The battle is on for the soul of this country,” the Rev. David Mary Engo said to the crowd of more than 400.
Led by members of coalition group Shepherds United, the rally Monday afternoon on the Allen County Courthouse lawn addressed marriage's role in society, particularly in light of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.
“Our liberty, as Christians, is at stake and is being lost,” Engo said. “We need to be active, we need to be involved and we cannot back down. We cannot back up. We cannot shut up. We must proclaim the truth in season and out of season, and my brothers and sisters, we are out of season.”
Engo, of the Franciscan Brothers Minor, was one of nine different speakers who took to the podium to share different aspects of a similar argument: marriage between members of the same sex is wrong and attempts to redefine marriage are perilous for society, and ultimately, unpleasing to God.
Formed in January, Shepherds United is made up of more than 120 Trinitarian Christian pastors, priests, and ministers and seeks to “reclaim humanity's inherent worth by defending innocent human life, traditional marriage and religious liberty,” according to its website. (shepherdsunited.org).
Liz Brown, Allen County Republican Party precinct chair, said to the crowd that the right to marry isn't explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution. She also evoked the Declaration of Independence, saying that government derives its power from the consent of the governed.
“Thus, we must speak, and be heard,” she said, “so that those in government understand exactly to what we will consent.”
Much of the speakers' words throughout the rally drew applause and cheers from the crowd. Supporters of same-sex marriage stood on the sidewalk on the outskirts of Courthouse Green. A few of those supporters were scattered in the traditional marriage crowd, standing silently, letting their signs speak for them.
On a bench a few dozen feet from the podium sat Connie Clauss and Colin Andrews, both of Fort Wayne. Clauss came specifically for the rally, while Andrews took in the messages while eating lunch.
“I was a member of this group for more than 40 years,” Clauss said, nodding toward those assembled on the green. “I had to choose between my belief system and my worldly, life experiences.”
Andrews said he leans more toward those on the grass than the pavement, but that he can understand the viewpoint of marriage equality supporters. It's a crucial piece of understanding that Andrews said was missing from the rally, one that would serve the two groups well.
Clauss compared homosexuals' current struggle for equality to the women's rights movement.
“This is just one more group of people who are trying to exercise their rights,” she said.
Rally speakers argued the counter, while saying they still maintain a love for those who disagreed with them.
“For those who take an opposing position, we love you,” Pastor Otha Aden of Southern Heights Baptist Church said. “We're not here to fight you. We're here to let you know that God created you for that loving relationship of a husband and a wife in a family relationship.”
Bria Warren, 14, a home-schooled student standing in the audience agreed.
“We do love gay-marriage advocates,” Warren said. “And if we do love them, we need to stand up and try and help them, which is what we're trying to do today.”
Though she said she does not have any gay friends and hasn't had to directly confront someone who opposes her viewpoint, she still sometimes finds it a challenge to stand up for her beliefs.
“I think Christians and traditional marriage advocates are viewed as haters and intolerant, and it can be hard when everywhere we go, when we try to stand for our values, being accused of hating people and not loving and not living up to what the Bible says to do, which is loving your neighbor.”
After the rally, Ginny Perkins of Fort Wayne said she believes same-sex couples should receive the financial benefits that heterosexual couples do, but that calling their union "marriage" is an overstep.
“Marriage is about the preservation of the species,” Perkins said. “To say that a male and male or a female and a female together make a marriage is nonsense.”