A handful of Westboro Baptist Church protesters picketing same-sex marriage in front of Annapolis' courthouse Wednesday were met in the early, freezing hours by more than 250 counter-protesters singing carols and holding signs preaching tolerance.
Four members of the ultra-conservative Westboro Baptist Church, based in Kansas, made Annapolis their first Maryland stop as they object to the state's new gay marriage law. St. Anne's Episcopal Church, across the street from the Annapolis courthouse, organized a counter-protest that swamped the Westboro objectors.
"When people came to our city to preach hate, we stood up to them," Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen said minutes after the protest ended. "It was a beautiful scene."
Wednesday marked the first day the courthouse was open for business after the same-sex marriage law took effect at midnight on Tuesday. The Westboro Baptist Church protesters, known for picketing high-profile funerals, planned a second protest in front of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse in Towson later in the day.
In Annapolis, counter-protesters include a half-dozen Annapolis High School students who said their first-period history teacher endorsed their idea to skip class and face the Westboro protesters instead.
"Their whole organization is offensive," said Adam Walden, 16. "They were here to preach hate, we were there to preach love."
The teenagers said they saw a few same-sex couples walk past the protesters and into the courthouse, where they could have a ceremony performed.
"Plus, they don't have the right to ruin someone's wedding day," said Sarah Sykora, 16. "It makes us really mad, so we wanted to stand up."
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