More than 30 LGBT couples, both newlyweds and longtime spouses, had their marriages recognized at the Baton Rouge Pride Festival on Saturday in celebration of what was described as the historic victory of marriage equality last summer.
Organizers estimated the crowd for the 10th annual festival at the Baton Rouge River Center at about 10,000 people, setting a record for attendance at the event. Ninety organizations sponsored the festival this year, officials said.
“This started off as a picnic in a park 10 years ago,” said Baton Rouge Pride Festival Chairman and founder Tom Merrill.
Merrill and his husband Rick Cain, co-founder of the festival, got married shortly after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case legalized gay marriage nationwide in June 2015.
“In our community, it’s a huge deal,” Merrill said. “There were plenty of us that got married in June or July of last year.”
And celebrations of those marriages were in full force during the six-hour event, which featured hours of music, dancing, artistry and rainbow-colored flags and necklaces.
Civic organizations and activists also set up at the event, touting sexual assault awareness, HIV testing and lobbying efforts for LGBT equality in Louisiana.
Equality Louisiana, a legislative advocacy group, prepared a march on the State Capitol slated for Saturday evening that was geared toward raising awareness of the work still to be done in LGBT rights.
Matt Patterson, managing director of Equality Louisiana, said the court victory on same-sex marriage was indescribable for the LGBT community.
“I still don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “It’s been this gigantic thing hanging over our heads, and now we don’t have to worry about it.”
Patterson said the “blessing of relationships,” where ministers and officiants recognize gay and lesbian couples at the festival each year, has been a hallmark of the event in years past.
Now, he said, it’s “not just us” recognizing the couples but the legal system as well.
But many of those attending the event highlighted roadblocks and hurdles that still exist for their community.
“It’s great that we can be married now,” Carl Angelle said, “but I could go into work tomorrow and lose my job.”
Angelle married his partner of 19 years, Adam Symbarski, a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer.
“There is definitely still work to be done,” Symbarski said.
Late in the afternoon, a group of protesters from the Consuming Fire Fellowship, a Woodville, Mississippi, church, took to the River Center with signs reading “Repent or Perish” and “God is Watching.”
“We’re here to stand against the perversion of homosexuality, which God hates,” the Rev. Britt Williams, church pastor, said.
There were verbal confrontations between the protestors and those who attended the festival, but the party inside continued. Festivalgoers noted that Gov. John Bel Edwards recently issued a proclamation designating June as LGBT Pride Month in Louisiana.
“To be recognized here in Louisiana is just extremely important,” said Dan Troge, whose marriage of two years to Eric Hoffman was recognized at the festival. “We certainly appreciate what the governor has recently done.”