"Come out, come out, wherever you are."

That was the call Barry Russell sounded Tuesday night when nearly 100 gay-rights advocates gathered at Binns Park to support same-sex unions.

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers two potentially landmark cases tied to gay marriage this week, Russell encouraged the crowd to step up and speak out here.

"We must destroy myths, and the way to do that is to come out," he said. "You must tell your family, you must tell your pastors, you must tell the people you work with. Once we do that, we will change perceptions about who we are."

Russell, who organized the event, is a member of Red Rose Rainbow Community - an organization that supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community.

The local event was one of hundreds of "light the way" vigils taking place across the country Tuesday in response to the court cases.

The justices heard oral arguments Tuesday on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a statewide ban on same-sex marriage that has been overturned by appellate courts. The second case, to be debated today, challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

The issue hits close to home for Deb Becker, a Lancaster city resident who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for more than 18 years.

"It's very important for us to have the same rights as straight couples," she said, adding that she's unable to get insurance coverage through her partner's employer because of their unmarried status.

Megan Malick, who is straight, and Adam Barkafski, who is gay, told the crowd they know first-hand the advantages married couples enjoy because they once were one.

A decade after Barkafski came out and ended his union with Malick, both are in committed relationships with other people. But things are different.

"We've both gotten married again, but only one of our marriages is recognized by the state, and that's wrong," she said.

Jeannie Graham, Lynn McCleary and Mary Emelio said they are waiting for the day when they can remarry as well - this time to women.

The three lesbians, all with adult children from previous marriages to men, said they are proud of their sexuality and don't care who knows it.

"Putting a face on the issue really does change the way some people feel about it," Graham said.

"By coming out, I have seen the opinions of my family members change over time," Emelio added.

Lancaster city councilman Todd Smith said he is hoping the day will come when Graham and Emelio don't have to come out.

Standing before his wife and young children, the Democrat said it's only a matter of time before public policy catches up with public opinion.

A poll released by Franklin & Marshall College in February showed that 52 percent of Pennsylvania voters support providing same-sex couples the same marriage rights as traditional ones. That was the first time in the poll's history a majority has supported gay unions.

"I'm so glad I can show my kids what it's like to stand up for what's right - what everyone will come to realize some day," he said.

Smith said that regardless of the Supreme Court's final decisions on the cases, which won't come out until June, the tide is turning.

"Marriage equality is inevitable," he told the crowd. "People will realize they won't be able to hide behind their religious beliefs anymore."


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