by Jordan Green

Five same-sex couples marry in mass wedding at Pride Winston-Salem, while gays and straight allies celebrate a momentous legal development.

Jesse Duncan, the executive director of AIDS Care Service, glanced over at the five couples standing with him on the soundstage at the end of Trade Street, as he addressed a crowd of thousands.

“Imagine how the couples two weeks ago privately celebrated their love, and now they can do it publicly,” he said.

Duncan officiated a wedding for five same-sex couples on Oct. 18 during Pride Winston-Salem — the first Pride event in the state since US District Court Judge Max Cogburn struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“Some might think this is a publicity stunt; that is not the case,” Duncan said. “Many of the couples have been together for many years, and together with their families they chose today to celebrate their marriages.”

Patte Luce couldn’t seem to quit smiling at her own good fortune to be marrying her partner, Bonnie Clark, and at the happiness of the other couples with whom they shared the occasion.

Jennifer Cape and Leslie Crisman looked deeply into one another’s eyes.

Lisa Bell and Alicia Huddle stood with their daughter, who brushed tears off her cheek.

Marcel Spencer and Lorraine Howard beamed with pride.

And Keith Hicks and Wayne Berrier, dressed in collared shirts with stylishly cut hair, looked on stoically, their emotions just below the surface.

“Today, we celebrate two people, two friends, two flawed individuals who are strengthened and bettered through their relationship with each other,” Duncan said. Then, after leading them through their vows, he declared, “I now pronounce you married in love and legally recognized as wedded couples in the state of North Carolina.”

Among the drag performers, costumed revelers and allies thronging Trade Street on what turned out to be a perfect, crisp, fall day were several families. Hillary Blackburn and Amanda Hanby of Lewisville brought their 7-week-old son, Dylan. Hanby said knowing that the couple can now be legally married felt both surreal and exciting. The two, who have been together for 15 years, said they want to get married as soon as possible, but first they have to focus on recovering from the financial cost of having a baby.

“We had to go through a lot of legal paperwork to make sure she could come into the hospital when Dylan was born,” Blackburn said.

She said she appreciates that when they do get married, they won’t have to deal with that kind of additional red tape in the future.

“It will give us some security,” she said. “If something were to happen to me, she’ll be able to stay with our son as the parent.”

Richard Cassidy, a lay follower of Christ who works with the intentional community Anthony’s Plot, wore a shirt emblazoned with the words “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

“Government and people cannot dictate people’s feelings, emotions and compassion that they have for one another,” he said, reflecting on the ruling. “Throughout history, there’s been various degrees of love. Whether a marriage is recognized inside or outside of the church, excluding someone — that in itself is a path to hell.”

Kevin Mundy, sales and marketing director at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art, summed up the collective feeling at the gathering as “elation,” adding that the judicial order lifting the marriage ban is but one step.

“The sad reality is that in North Carolina any employer can fire someone because they’re gay,” he said. Mundy and his partner have been together for 16 years, but he said they need to look at their finances before making a decision on whether to get married.

“It’s nice to have the option,” he said.

For Ciera Andy and Keairra Hall, the right to marry — whether they choose to act on it or not — is huge.

“I feel awesome,” Andy said. “My rights are being recognized. It’s like a dream come true.”

Hall said the right to marry strengthens their relationship because they won’t have to worry about being separated from each other if something were to happen while one of them is traveling, and that they would be able to share health insurance.

Although getting married out of state or solemnizing their union without legal sanction were options in the past, the recent court decision makes it more likely that the couple will tie the knot.

“It puts pressure on me,” Andy said.

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