Months ago, when the Rev. Mark Pridmore offered to conduct a mass wedding for gays and lesbians in Riverfront Park, he was thinking half a dozen couples might be interested.
But Sunday, standing beneath the arch of a gigantic cloth rainbow with a handful of couples before him and several hundred witnesses on hand, Pridmore sensed more people were willing. He opened the ceremony to the audience and wound up with about 24 would-be couples.
“For a community the size of Spokane, I think it’s a great start,” Pridmore said. “It’s the first (mass ceremony) I’ve ever heard of here. I’ve been in Spokane a year and a half, and it’s the first one I’ve done.”
The ceremony had no legal effect, but it was a symbolic high point of Spokane’s 13th-annual Pride Parade and festival, organized each year by the Inland Northwest Pride committee.
Hundreds of supporters and members of Spokane’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities marched through downtown Spokane, pounding drums and waving brightly colored flags and feather boas before celebrating in the park for three hours.
Washington does not recognize gay marriages. Several people at the event said they plan to conduct a mass wedding every second Sunday in June until the state does. June is the awareness month for gays and lesbians.
“The wedding was a feature this year because it’s been in the national news,” said Bridget Potter, chair of the Inland Northwest Pride committee. “But we’ll continue to do this.”
A first for several participants, the marriage ceremony actually was the second for Bonnie Aspen and Willow Williams of Spokane. The couple of 25 years had traveled to Multnomah County, Ore., for a legally recognized ceremony last March. They have plans for another ceremony with family members this summer in Nelson, B.C.
Marriage is important for gays and lesbians, Aspen and Williams said, because it joins couples in ways that heterosexual couples take for granted. A gay or lesbian couple cannot speak for each other in a medical emergency and cannot access personal information available only to “family members.” And the financial safety nets granted to heterosexual couples with an “I do” are not allowed for gays and lesbians without comprehensive legal contracting.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act passed in Washington in 1998, the state will not recognize Aspen and Williams’ marriage certificate from Oregon.
But Sunday was more than a day at the altar. It was a day for tolerance and celebration of people who, organizers say, too often are marginalized. Community organizers talked about forming a gay neighborhood district in Spokane, something to give gay residents more of a presence and a voice in community matters.
Information booths were set up concerning everything from parenting to health care to business advocacy, including a 51-page directory of gay-friendly professionals and businesses.
Community objection was limited to a single protester walking along the perimeter of the park. A steady stream of traffic poured out of nearby River Park Square, and no one seemed bothered by the park gathering, which, from the street, looked like nothing out of the ordinary.