With one side invoking the Bible and the other the U.S. Constitution, demonstrators opposed to allowing gays in the military squared off against gay-rights advocates on a busy Port Hueneme street corner Friday.
About 30 Ventura County residents calling for President Clinton to uphold the ban on gays in the armed forces waved American flags, passed petitions and displayed protest signs in front of the Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center on Channel Islands Boulevard at Ventura Road during lunch hour.
Across six lanes of traffic on Channel Islands Boulevard, more than 60 counterdemonstrators stood in front of a gas station chanting, singing and displaying their own colorful signs in support of the President's proposal to allow gays and lesbians into the military.
Although the counterdemonstrators outnumbered those protesting the end of the ban, Camarillo resident Clara Jean Davis said the gay-rights advocates did not represent the views of most Americans.
"We're here to send a message to President Clinton that the majority of American people do not support his lifting of the ban," said Davis, a former member of the county's Republican Central Committee who has also been active in the anti-abortion movement. "If you lift the ban, it will legitimize homosexuality. We cannot legitimize homosexuality because it's an abomination of God."
While Davis and other protesters from Americans for Common Sense cited biblical references condemning homosexuality, gay-rights protesters across the street said they are asking only that the U.S Constitution's guarantee of civil rights apply to all citizens.
"We have a right to defend our country just like everybody else does," said Ventura resident Cam Keep, 32. "What we do in the privacy of our own bedrooms is our own business."
Although the counterdemonstrators were primarily from gay rights groups such as the Unity Pride Coalition, ACT-UP and Queer Nation, the National Organization for Women and Neighbors Against Nazis were also represented.
Simi Valley resident Willie Lapin, 38, a member of Neighbors Against Nazis, said he is not gay but is committed to lifting the military's ban on homosexual men and lesbians.
"It's a discrimination issue," Lapin said. "Nobody in America is free until we're all free."
Although protesters and counterdemonstrators followed police instructions to keep to their own sides of the street, police officers in riot gear stationed themselves along both sides of Channel Islands Boulevard.
In addition to Port Hueneme officers, Oxnard police sent 10 officers to the area and had 10 others on alert, while the county Sheriff's Department deployed a paddy wagon in case there were arrests, Oxnard police spokesman David Keith said.
But the protests were peaceful and orderly.
"The big issue today has been they were standing on the grass," Keith said, pointing to the strip of grass next to the service station.
At the request of the gas station manager, police asked the gay-rights demonstrators to move, and they complied.
Many motorists driving along Channel Islands Boulevard and Ventura Road honked or waved in support of one of the two groups, although sometimes it was difficult to tell which side they were supporting.
Though the two groups of demonstrators did not speak to each other, they commented on each others' signs.
Tom Swann, 35, a former Marine who founded a local gay veterans' organization, pointed to a sign held by the protesters across the street declaring: "We don't need your AIDS. Keep it to yourselves."
"That sign over there offends me," said Swann, who has publicly stated that he is gay and is infected with the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome. "Lifting the ban has nothing to do with AIDS. The issue is discrimination."
Swann, a civilian employee at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center, recently filed a complaint against the Navy charging that Point Mugu officials transferred him to another department because he openly criticized the military ban on gays.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced Friday that the Navy has agreed to return Swann to his original department.