by Daniel Schere

Five couples wed at Winston-Salem Pride 2014 | @Daniel_Schere

Those who attended this past weekend’s Winston-Salem Pride 2014 festival may one day talk to their grandchildren about the legalization of same-sex marriage in North Carolina. And when they do, many will point to Saturday’s five-couple marriage ceremony on Trade Street in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000 as one of the highlights.

Same-sex couples in North Carolina have been able to get marriage licenses since a ruling on Oct. 10 by US District Court Judge Max Cogburn Jr. stating that the ban on same-sex marriage set out in Amendment One is unconstitutional. The ruling happened to coincide with Winston-Salem’s second annual Pride festival, giving organizers an opportunity to acknowledge the occasion.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the United States since 2004 when Massachusetts began issuing licenses. Lorraine Howard and Marcel Spencer, one of the couples that were married Saturday, declined that opportunity in order to celebrate at home.

“We had talked about getting married and I kept telling Marcel, when she would ask I would tell her that I wanted to wait until it was legal in North Carolina,” Howard said. “We could have been married in Massachusetts 10 years ago but we wanted to wait to be here with our friends, and we got our wish.”

Howard is originally from Massachusetts but has lived in North Carolina for 30 years, 12 of which have been spent in a relationship with Spencer. They met each other through a bowling league.

Pride organizers Keith Hicks and Wayne Berrier were also married in Saturday’s ceremony. Hicks said seeing his loved ones cheering for him and Berrier was enough to move him to tears.

“I kept telling myself, I’m not going to drink any water, I’m not going to cry,” he said. “But as soon as I got up there and started seeing people that we knew, family, loved ones it just “¦ yeah. Waterworks.”

Hicks and Berrier met in a grocery store in 1990 and lived together in Clemmons prior to moving to Winston- Salem in July. Two years ago they helped found the nonprofit organization Pride Winston-Salem, which grew out of another LGBT rights group called Equality Winston-Salem. They said the court ruling still has not sunk in.

“We just believed that it would be one of the last states that it ever happened in, and for it to have actually happened fairly early on we were very excited about,” Berrier said.

Hicks also described the feeling as “surreal” and said they had gone to the courthouse one day earlier to get a marriage license, thinking the ruling would come then. They eventually got theirs the following Monday.

“For us personally, there are so many benefits that come with that license,” he said. “It’s incredible. Being together 25 years, it’s hard to imagine that we have the same rights as opposite gender marriages. It’s hard to express it in words.”

The couple had made one previous attempt at getting a marriage license in California but was unsuccessful.

“We had planned to go to San Francisco when it first came to San Francisco when they had the ruling,” Hicks said. “To get married we bought our license and everything and the day that we were going to fly out they stopped it all and so we’ve been a little gun shy. So up until we got that piece of paper in our hand, we wanted to be very cautious in how excited we got.”

Hicks said that their original plan prior to the ruling was to wait until April 25, 2015, their 25th anniversary, and get married in another state.

The ceremony was preceded by a number of performers as well as vocalist Corey Hodges’ renditions of “Marry Me” by Train and “When You Say You Love Me” by Josh Groban.

Jesse Duncan, a local activist who is the executive director of Aids Care Service, and officiated the ceremony, said he too was struck by the emotion of the day.

“Imagine just a few weeks ago the couples that are standing up here now privately celebrated their love, and now they can finally legally be recognized and celebrate publicly,” he said.

Duncan had been previously ordained before his sister’s wedding. He said he took the week leading up to the festival to meet with the couples and get to know them.

“They shared stories of their journey, their initial process and the historical part, I know that’s there,” Duncan said. “But that doesn’t speak out as much as the love between the couples and how I felt talking to them and hearing about their experiences together.”

In addition to the ceremony and performances on the main stage, a number of vendors helped sponsor the event and set up tents along Trade Street. Time Warner Cable set up a large board called “This is My Coming Out Story” where attendees could write a message about when they or a friend came out. Community Investment Manager Stephanie Richin said the wall is a national effort by TWC to reach out to the LGBT community in order to emphasize the company’s value of community.

“Diversity inclusion is another one of our mission and values, and we want our customers to know we’re here for them,” she said. “We support them

with a lot of LGBT-friendly programming and then we bring out this wall because we want people to share their coming out story or supporters can say what the LGBT community means to them. It’s just something that’s really important to the company.”

Richin said the wall is reusable and will be making stops at Pride festivals throughout the Carolinas. !