Same-sex marriage advocates marching to Olympia

Begun in Vancouver, trek will end today

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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The Rev. Brooks Berndt and other advocates are marching from Vancouver to Olympia at the rate of 17 miles a day to send a message that many religious leaders across the state support same-sex marriage.

The group started the seven-day march on Thursday sporting yellow vests and signs on their backs with messages such as “Love for all.” They’ve stuck strictly to country roads, following walking directions provided by Google maps.

“It’s been a good experience,” Vancouver’s Berndt, 35, said by phone while trekking through Winlock. He was slightly out of breath from marching and the occasional horn honked in the background. “It’s just been really affirming to receive all of the support we’ve received.”

One of those positive responses came from a lesbian woman who ran out of her Vader home to greet the group, Berndt said. She invited them into her home for coffee and to meet her partner and mother. After sharing her story with the group, the woman marched with them for about an hour.

“It was a really moving experience,” Berndt said.

It’s the only time his church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Vancouver, has participated in a political

march. Members and other equality groups began planning the march in the summer and decided to wait until February in case any same-sex marriage bills were introduced in the state Legislature.

Berndt said on Monday afternoon that he expected the group to get to the steps of the Capitol in Olympia by late Wednesday afternoon. He and his fellow marchers were increasing their distance on Monday to about 18 miles, tackling the stretch between Castle Rock and Napavine.

The amount of people in the group has fluctuated depending on the day, Berndt. Sometimes they are as small as eight people. Other times they have more than 30. The largest crowd so far was in Longview, where marchers were joined on Saturday by gay rights advocates from three different churches in the city.

Some of the marchers commute home to sleep and come back in the morning to pick up where they left off. Others have been sleeping along the route in a recreational vehicle and a tent. Brooks has been driving home at night to be with his 4-month-old daughter, Danalyn.

Berndt said his church has had a policy for the past two decades of being open to all types of people, including gay and lesbian members of the community. He said he believes the new law legalizing same-sex marriage actually provides more freedom to religious organizations because it allows churches to decide whether they want to solemnize marriages for same-sex couples.

“There’s often this misconception that people of faith and pastors are against marriage equality,” Berndt said. “It’s really important to show that communities of faith support marriage equality.”

The march was co-sponsored by the Portland-based Community of Welcoming Congregations, Equal Rights Washington, Seattle-based Faith Action Network and the Religious Coalition for Equality.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics