DURHAM — Amid the colorful wigs, men in drag and rainbow flags at N.C. Pride on Saturday were same-sex couples kissing, holding hands and toting their children.
A year after North Carolina passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, thousands of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people and heterosexuals were unafraid to show their love and support for one another at the event that drew more than 10,000 people to Durham.
Josh Allen with N.C. Pride called this year’s pride festival the biggest so far and the largest in the three-state area including South Carolina and Tennessee.
More than 140 vendors and more than 110 groups and 60 vehicles took part in the parade. The five-day festival that ends Sunday added two new events this year, a 5K run and a film night, Allen said.
Beyond the revelry, the LGBT community and its supporters were pushing for something more basic: equality.
“We’re making gains every day,” said Johnathan Smith, 23, of Raleigh. “Look what happened with Prop 8 in California and on a federal level with DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). In North Carolina, I think it’s just slow. It would be great to get to where you can walk down the street with your partner holding hands and be accepted.”
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of DOMA and ruled in June that the federal government can't refuse gay couples equal rights if they've been married in states that recognize same-sex marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greensboro citing the Supreme Court ruling in seeking to overturn North Carolina’s constitutional ban.
Six months ago, Jennifer Scott, 35, and her then-partner Christi Heuer, 35, lived in Wilmington and said they faced stares when they tried to hold hands in public. The couple moved to Durham and married in Maryland in June.
The difference is like night and day, they said. Here in the Triangle when the couple shopped for wedding bands, the store clerk didn’t bat an eye, Heuer said. Although the move means less gawking, the couple still live in North Carolina, where their marriage isn’t recognized.
“Federally, we’re accepted,” Heuer said. “Legally, here in North Carolina, it doesn’t do us a lot of good.”
For Heuer and her wife, who are trying to have a second child, they face further complications from another state law. As of 2010, second-parent adoptions were banned in the state by an N.C. Supreme Court decision.
Heuer will supply the egg, and Scott will serve as the surrogate. Their baby will be biologically Heuer’s, but the couple are unsure whether state law will allow both Heuer and Scott to be listed on the child’s birth certificate.
“Why shouldn’t she be on the birth certificate,” said Scott. “It’s our child.”
Decked out in rainbow fishnets, a unicorn T-shirt and draped in a rainbow cape, Laura Collins Britton of Chapel Hill had her support for LGBT rights on full display during the parade – and she’s not even gay.
“I came here to show my love and support,” said Britton, whose sister-in-law is a lesbian. “All of these people are someone’s sister or brother.”
Her husband, Tom Britton, proudly sported a pink scarf as a symbol of his solidarity.
“My sister is gay, and I love her all the way,” he said. “Why should she not be allowed to love somebody the way I love Laura?”
Clinton Parker, 23, of Cary and Russell Dalton, 38, of Cary felt comfortable hugging during the festival.
“I love the diversity and the acceptance,” Parker. “It’s a great show of strength that we can be together no matter what the state says. We’re going to live our lives.”