More than 200,000 Christians gathered this week in Puerto Rico's capital in protest of proposals that would grant legal recognition to gay couples, saying that they are standing up for traditional values and protecting the institution of the family.
"We are concerned that laws will be created to discriminate against the church ... We are concerned that public education will be used to change our children, presenting them with behaviors their parents don't think are correct," said Cesar Vazquez Muñiz, spokesman for Puerto Rico for the Family, the organization behind the protest, as reported by The Huffington Post.
"This demonstration tells the government that there are things that they cannot touch and those are marriage and family," Muñiz added.
The "Puerto Rico Stands Up" campaign has been drawing hundreds of thousands of believers since Monday morning in the capital city of San Juan, bringing traffic to a standstill as the gay rights debate in the U.S. commonwealth nation continues. Puerto Rico currently does not recognize same-sex unions of any kind.
A smaller counter-protest backed by supporters of gay rights was also held in the area, with proponents campaigning for equality that they say should be extended to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation.
"One of the struggles I've had with the church is its sexist and homophobic message, and obviously when I see that they are using the resources they have to promote discrimination I cannot stay quiet because that is not the message of God," said Pastor Yenen Silén at the counter-protest.
Puerto Rican human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano added that the larger event was "full of hate and intolerance.
"Today was a day filled with hatred and intolerance against the LGBT community. Thousands went to the Capitol, deceived by their leaders, supposedly to 'defend the family', but that was the least of what they did," Seranno said on Facebook. "You don't defend a family by denying rights to its most vulnerable members, attacking the dignity of any human being with hate, discrimination, intolerance and exclusion."
Governor Pedro Julio Serrano insisted that his administration does not discriminate against any group of people, but pledged his support for traditional marriage, as defined between a man and a woman.
"I have met with both sides of the leadership. As governor I react to reason, not pressure. My government is a government of inclusion, we all live in this country, we are all responsible for a better country," Governor Padilla told Univision.
"I favor the law 54 which protects domestic partnership ... As for marriage, I do not agree that it should be anything except between man and woman. But the rights that are guaranteed to people are those we have to look for and secure for all human beings," he added.
Puerto Rico is still a notably religious territory, with the Roman Catholic Church, which officially opposes gay marriage, claiming over two-thirds of the population. In the November General Elections, 54 percent of voters in Puerto Rico expressed a desire to see the country become the 51st U.S. state and be awarded full citizenship rights.
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