More than 250 counter-protesters greeted four members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) with signs, church hymns and cookies in Annapolis on Wednesday morning.
The WBC group came to Maryland's capital to protest at the Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Church Circle against same-sex marriage.
Maryland voters upheld a law legalizing gay marriage in November, but the law took effect Tuesday. Since state offices were closed for New Year's Day, Wednesday was the first time couples could marry inside the courthouse.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of church founder Fred Phelps, sang songs and shouted that God sent the shooter to Newtown, CT, as Annapolis police officers kept passersby moving along the sidewalk in front of the courthouse from about 8-8:45 a.m.
The church and its members have made headlines for years by picketing the funerals of soldiers, according to the Huffington Post.
Across the street at St. Anne's Church, hundreds of people held signs saying things like "make love not hate" and "love is more divine than hate."
Gretchen Winch and her girlfriend Jean Alissa Dryzgula stayed up with their friends all night baking hundreds of cookies to pass out to protesters.
"What better way to fight hate than with food," Justin Metcalf-Burton said. "It's priceless to show up outnumbering the hate group by a very massive number."
Mayor Josh Cohen had mixed feelings about the counter-protests.
"I think it's important as a town that we say we are not going to tolerate this kind of hatred," Cohen said. "It also draws attention to the fact that Maryland is a very tolerant state."
But Cohen said the number of counter-protesters created a larger scene than four people with signs standing on a sidewalk. He thinks the Kansas-based group thrives on attention, and the counter-protesters feed the groups desires.
"Just like when your kids act out to get a reaction from you," Cohen said.
Just behind the counter-protesters was a group of about 100 people singing Christmas carols, church hymns and praying on St. Anne's lawn. The Episcopal church normally holds morning worship, and Rector Amy Richter said she decided to move the service outdoors when she heard that WBC was coming.
"Church Circle is named for the fact that there is a church here, and there has been a church here for more than 300 years," Richter said. "The message of the church is that God is love. That's the message every day, but it was especially important to proclaim that this day clearly and loudly."
Members from more than a half dozen churches showed up, including Pastor Henry Green who ministers to Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis.
"I'm glad Amy put this together," Green said. "I'm honored to stand with Christians who believe in love."
The church's singing could be heard at the courthouse steps, but both Richter and Green were unsure their message would reach the hearts of the WBC's members.
"I hope it will," Richter said. "To put the proclamation that God is love into action, we have to pray for all mankind—even those who disagree with us."
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