This proud old seaport, whose sons and daughters have fought in every American war, was grieving for Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Piper. The 43-year-old Green Beret died after his Humvee hit a roadside bomb June 3 in Afghanistan.
When word got out that demonstrators from Kansas planned to disrupt Piper's funeral Monday, residents vowed not to let them interfere with the tribute to their hometown hero.
The 14 demonstrators from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., picketed Monday on a corner near the Old North Church, a Congregational parish founded in 1635, soon after Marblehead was settled. The followers of the Rev. Fred Phelps, who blame American tolerance of homosexuality for the Sept. 11 attacks and the resulting U.S. military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, have targeted Massachusetts for protests because it is the only state where same-sex marriage is legal.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a lawyer for the Kansas church, said Monday that the funeral demonstration was nothing personal against Piper, who was not gay.
The group also has demonstrated at high school and middle school graduations across Massachusetts, contending that school curricula promote homosexuality.
On the corner of a narrow street lined with Colonial-era buildings, the Kansas contingent tried shouting its anti-homosexual message at mourners who overflowed from the church. But every time demonstrators spoke out, the 14-man Boston Police Department bagpipe band broke into thunderous sound.