Image: An Israeli couple kisses
Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
An Israeli couple kisses during the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem on Thursday. 
updated 7/29/2010 3:33:48 PM ET 2010-07-29T19:33:48

Thousands of Israelis marched calmly Thursday in Jerusalem's longest gay pride parade despite opposition from anti-gay demonstrators.

The subdued Jerusalem march from the center of town to the parliament building contrasted with flamboyant gay pride parades elsewhere in the world. Organizers said they were adjusting to the religious character of the city and using their march to promote their political agenda.

Carrying rainbow banners, several thousand demonstrators walked along the 1.5 mile (2.5 kilometer) route. A few dozen black-suited ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters at the beginning and end of the route held signs denouncing homosexuals, with slogans like "Gay Play in Hell, Not Jerusalem." Many ultra-Orthodox Jews consider homosexuality an abomination.

Marchers said such opposition has forced the gay community of Jerusalem underground in most parts of the city.

"In a religious society, a lot of people still don't realize we actually exist," said Sarah Weil, 26, who helps run an organization for lesbians who are also Orthodox Jews.

The march marked the one-year anniversary of a shooting attack at a Tel Aviv gay youth center that killed two.

"This is first of all a march of mourning," said organizer Yonatan Gher, "and at the end we will try to put the mourning behind us and look forward to the coming year, and declare tonight the beginning of gay rights year."

Thousands of Israeli police guarded the marchers.

The Jerusalem parade has been marred by violence in the past. In 2005, an Orthodox Jewish protester stabbed three marchers. Organizers said the fear of attack still keeps many people at home.

But parade participants say there are signs the climate in Jerusalem is changing.

"I don't think it's dangerous anymore," said Yair Lieberman, 23. "But even if there's danger, that shouldn't stop us from walking."

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