Several hundred gay and lesbian activists marched Sunday from Capitol Hill to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle seeking legal equity for same-sex couples.

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Urging people to come out of the shops and onto the street, a boisterous crowd including several hundred gay and lesbian activists marched down Broadway to the steps of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle Sunday to support Referendum 71 and to ask for legal equality.

“What do we want? Equal rights!” the marchers shouted. “When do we want it? Now!”

The march, which never came close to the predicted turnout of several thousand people, coincided with the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., earlier Sunday, which drew tens of thousands of gay-rights activists to the nation’s capital. Seattle police estimated the crowd here at between 300 and 400.

In the nation’s capital, marchers demanded that President Obama keep his promise to allow gays to serve openly in the military and work to end discrimination based on sexual preference. In Seattle, marchers focused on Referendum 71, which asks voters to endorse or reject a recent state law granting marriagelike benefits to same-sex and senior couples who are domestic partners.

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A yes vote keeps the law in place; a no vote nullifies it. Many at the rally said they were concerned that the tricky ballot language might confuse voters and cause people to inadvertently make the wrong choice.

Mathew Bockus, of Seattle, said he’s been making calls in favor of R-71, and has found that voters “haven’t been paying attention. They go, ‘Well, which is the right way to vote?’ ” to retain gay rights, he said.

State Rep. Jamie Pedersen, one of the few openly gay members of the state Legislature, echoed that concern. He called R-71 a referendum “about our place in this society and in our state.”

Despite recent defeats — including the passage of Proposition 8 last year, which overturned gay marriage in California — many speakers in Seattle on Sunday said they believed momentum was in their favor. They cited Obama’s pledge, during a speech to the nation’s largest gay-rights group Saturday, to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Shaun Knittel, a Navy veteran who recently left the military after 10 years of service and now works for Seattle Gay News, said he believed the controversial policy would be gone in another six months.

The rally and march drew a handful of political candidates, or their volunteers. Seattle mayoral candidate Mike McGinn made a personal appearance, along with a dozen campaign workers. “It’s a beautiful day, and this is a good bunch of voters to connect with,” said McGinn, who stayed for the march.

Seattle city-attorney candidate Pete Holmes sent his campaign manager, Jon Brumbach, and a group of about eight volunteers. And volunteers for King County Executive candidate Dow Constantine passed out rainbow-colored stickers that said, “Dow now! Pride always!”

Mark Rosen, of Seattle, said he came to the rally after seeing that a group of several hundred people opposing R-71 demonstrated Saturday in Lynnwood. He said proponents “needed to show up in equal numbers.”

Sunday’s march, billed as the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Equality March, came at the end of a weekend of activities in Seattle, including educational workshops on Saturday and an HIV/AIDS vigil downtown on Saturday night.

Unlike the Gay Pride parade in the spring, which attracts thousands of people and is more of a celebration, Sunday’s march was about political empowerment, said organizer Carmen Rivera.

On Broadway, bemused shopkeepers and shoppers hung out of doors and windows as the marchers walked past. A group of diners in front of the Broadway Grill stood and applauded, and the crowd cheered when somebody waved an “Approve R-71” sign from the door of a condominium. But few seemed to heed the call to leave the shops and join the march.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or

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