Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church Protests Gay Marriage Law

The Hartford Courant/April 28, 2009

Three relatives of a controversial anti-gay pastor from Kansas came to Connecticut today to protest the state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage here.

"We travel out in teams like this at least weekly," said Ben Phelps, 33, grandson of Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. He was joined on Capitol Avenue in Hartford by Fred Phelps' daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper, 51, and her son, Zach, 18.

Church members have criss-crossed the nation picketing military funerals, students performing the musical "Rent" and a high school named for the poet Walt Whitman. The congregation has been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Hartford protest, which lasted less than 30 minutes, drew about a half-dozen counter-protesters and at least 10 law enforcement officials from several different departments.

"We wanted to answer hate with something positive," said one of the counter-protesters, Tara Crawford, 32, of Danbury.

"More love, less hate," said Joshua Demers, 29, of Hartford, who spent part of his lunch hour in the blistering heat protesting the Phelps family protest.

In the past, the group, which believes that the end of days forecast in the Bible is near, has shown up at military funerals, contending that service men and women were killed as punishment for the nation's acceptance of homosexuality.

The Connecticut legislature passed a law in 2007 prohibiting pickets at funerals, largely in response to the church's tactics.

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