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7:57 p.m. November 15, 2008

LAS VEGAS – Gay rights supporters rallied in Nevada on Saturday as part of a string of protests reacting to the ban on same-sex marriage passed 11 days ago in California.

Upbeat crowds of more than 1,000 in Las Vegas and 300 in Reno cried out for equal rights for gays and lesbians.In Las Vegas, demonstrators gathered outside a gay and lesbian community center just east of the Strip. Many carried brightly painted signs, including one reading “Inequality is soooo not kool” and another declaring “Love is love.”

Like many in the crowd, protest organizer Candice Nichols connected the fight for equal marriage rights for gays to the battle for equal rights for African Americans.

“Our message is, ‘Separate is not equal and not acceptable,’” said Nichols, the executive director of Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. “Second-class citizenship is not acceptable.”

On Nov. 4, Californians passed Proposition 8, a measure defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Nevada passed a similar ban on same-sex marriages in 2002.

The California proposition’s approval has sparked some angry protests against its supporters, particularly members of the Mormon Church and other faiths.

But speakers at Saturday’s rallies in Nevada made only passing references to these adversaries on the issue.

“Today we must confront those who wield the Bible as a weapon, who use God as an excuse for their bigotry,” Jennifer Bolton, a gay rights advocate, told the Las Vegas crowd.

In Reno, demonstrators marched through the downtown casino area and gathered around the landmark Reno Arch, which proclaims Reno as the “Biggest Little City in the World.”

Speakers urged the crowd to become involved in the political process and to exert pressure on elected officials to ensure equal rights for gays and lesbians.

“What we’re hoping to do is bring attention to other inequality issues,” said Eddie Reynoso, president of the Reno gay and lesbian community center Rainbow Place.

Reno demonstrators waved placards reading “Keep Your Religion Out of My State,” “Separate Church and State” and “Ur Neighbor Above All Else – Gay, Str8, Mormon, Black, Etc.”

Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung told the crowd that she would work to extend domestic partner benefits to county employees.

“I want you to know I’ll fight for you,” she said to cheers.

In Las Vegas, comedian Wanda Sykes made a surprise appearance at the rally Saturday. Sykes, who was in town performing on the Strip, said the passage of Proposition 8 has led her to be more outspoken about her sexuality.

“You know, I don’t really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn’t feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life,” Sykes said. “Everybody that knows me personally, they know I’m gay. But that’s the way people should be able to live their lives.”

Similar protests were held Saturday in Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and other cities.

Associated Press writer Martin Griffith in Reno contributed to this report.

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