TWENTY MARRIAGE equality activists braved four inches of snow this past Saturday, December 20, to hold a candlelight vigil in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

"I was worried at one point that there might be just two or three of us," said organizer Lindsey Asher. "So thanks to all of you for coming out. You are all heroes."

Asher, an independent activist, also organized the November 15 South Park Blocks rally against the passage of California's Proposition 8 measure ["Onward," News, Nov 20], which was attended by more than 1,000 people. Given the more modest turnout this time around, Asher encouraged everyone to share a personal story about why they had shown up despite the bitterly cold weather.

"I'm here because my grandmother had to keep her sexuality a secret," said Cynthia Cruse. "And when she died, her partner had no rights; everything had to be a secret. My grandmother would be proud of us standing here today."

Asher said one way she has been engaging people about marriage equality since the passage of Proposition 8 is by asking them how the right for same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts since 2004 has been affecting them, personally.

"As someone who came here from Massachusetts five months ago, I can say that it was fine," responded Rob Matera, a call center employee for a corporate healthcare provider here in Portland. Matera said he has been taking calls from gay couples in California over the past two weeks asking to change their marital status for benefits purposes.

"It's just sad," he said.

Initially this weekend, there was some concern about whether the vigil would be able to take place at all. A private security officer working for Portland Patrol Services, Inc., which has a contract to patrol Pioneer Courthouse Square, asked Asher to stop the protest before it started because she had no permit, and because lighting candles violates the square's "no open flames policy."

Asher, who had been in contact with Parks Commissioner Dan Saltzman's office about the open flames rule last week, thanked the guard for his input and proceeded to light her candle regardless. As the rent-a-cop shuffled off, Asher's act of defiance had a galvanizing effect on the crowd.

"I was kind of surprised they let us stay," said Chris Daniels, who had dropped by the protest after buying a Nintendo Game Boy at the mall. "They tend to be pretty authoritarian about this kind of thing."

Asher plans more protests over the coming months, snow or shine.