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LifestyleGay In Maryland

Mass same-sex wedding at Pride celebration 'a long time coming'

MarriageFamilyWeddingsSame-Sex Marriage

Lorie Young, her white veil neatly pulled over her eyes, tucked a handwritten note into the bouquet of blue and purple flowers she clutched as she waited for the ceremony to begin.

Written on it were her wedding vows, the promises of a shared future with her partner, Latasha Dinkins. Behind them was the 11-hour drive the Atlanta couple made to Baltimore, four years of dating and raising their two daughters, and the moment last New Year's Eve when they decided they should get married.

"I'm nervous as hell," said Young, 28, who plans to officially change her name to Dinkins. "I'm thinking, Lord, please help me get through this. I don't want to cry."

Young and Dinkins, 24, stood together Sunday on the main stage of the Baltimore Pride Celebration in Druid Hill Park, in front of a crowd of hundreds of festival attendees and well-wishers who came to see what was billed as the first mass same-sex wedding in the city's history. They were surrounded by about 20 other couples, but looked only at each other as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake read off the traditional lines:

"To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

"I now pronounce you married," the mayor said, to loud whoops and applause. The couples embraced and kissed. Some cried, including Young.

Sunday's afternoon ceremony was, for some, the culmination of months or years spent lobbying in Annapolis for legal same-sex marriage in Maryland. The measure became law Jan. 1 after approval by the General Assembly and by voters on a referendum in 2012.

The ceremony was officiated by Rawlings-Blake, whom gay rights advocates see as a strong supporter of their causes. The mayor served as grand marshal of the annual Pride festival, and on Saturday marched in heels several inches high in the event's parade through Mount Vernon, flanked by two men with "SRB" painted onto their bare chests.

"They were her Pride shoes," Carrietta Hiers, who organized the mass wedding, said of the mayor's heels. Hiers, who married her partner, Tonya Cook, at Sunday's ceremony, said the mayor has told her she sees gay equality as a civil rights issue.

"The support is critical," Hiers said. "It's always, 'What can I do to help? What do you need? This is the person that you should contact.' She believes in equality for everyone."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who pushed for the legalization of same-sex marriage, was known as a supporter of gay rights while he was mayor of Baltimore. But Hiers said she believes Rawlings-Blake stands out among other Baltimore mayors on the issue because of her enthusiasm and actions, which included phone-banking to drum up support for the law and work on support for gay youth. In the early hours of New Year's Day, Rawlings-Blake, who has the legal right to officiate at marriages, presided over the weddings of several other gay couples.

"It was a very touching ceremony," Rawlings-Blake said after the mass wedding. "It was truly my honor to officiate ... to celebrate love and equality."

The ceremony drew condemnation from some, including the Rev. Lynwood H. Leverette Sr., of Mount Pisgah CME Church in West Baltimore, who said the mayor's involvement was "alarming." He believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

"I find it somewhat embarrassing to go anywhere in the country and say, 'I'm from Baltimore,' and someone brings up that our mayor thinks it prudent to participate in that," Leverette said. "She should have left well enough alone."

As Rawlings-Blake walked off the stage Sunday, an elderly lesbian couple came up to the mayor to shake her hand. They had been together for 47 years, the women told her, and would be getting married soon.

Joh Myers and Andy Kneasel of Baltimore, another couple at the mass wedding, said being able to get married in their home state and city was crucial.

"We did not want to get married in another state and come back and have our marriage not be recognized, so when we heard about this opportunity, we jumped on it," said Myers, 59. The men, who met 37 years ago, donned matching long white robes, white kangaroo hats and blue scarves for the ceremony.

"I'm just happy that all these people are here and that they approve," said Kneasel, 58.

Indeed, as Rawlings-Blake called off the names of the couples to be married, several supporters in the crowd began to cry. "It's a happy occasion," said one woman.

Afterward, the couples ate cupcakes in rainbow colors and waited their turn to have their marriage licenses signed by the mayor or one of several local ministers on hand for the occasion.

Liz Bliss and Clare Twomey, the kind of couple that finish each other's sentences, grinned at each other as they waited in line.

"I was looking at this one," Bliss said, nodding at Twomey, "but [the ceremony] was amazing." The couple then shared a kiss. Bliss, 45, said their wedding vows were "just pure promise."

"This was a long time coming," added Twomey, 49, who said they met in 1986. They plan to move soon to Colorado, but have deep roots in Baltimore.

"I'm very proud of the state, and I'm completely proud of Baltimore City and the mayor and all that she's done," Bliss said.

cwells@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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