DETROIT — Two pioneers of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage in Michigan led the procession as Detroit celebrated the 43rd Motor City Pride Festival and Parade under drizzly skies Sunday.
Grand marshals April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse and their three children sat inside a 1967 Plymouth Fury courtesy of event sponsor Chrysler during the parade that ended up at downtown Detroit's riverfront Hart Plaza. The Hazel Park couple brought the legal challenge that led a federal judge to overturn Michigan's same-sex ban as unconstitutional.
That ruling was quickly stayed by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but not before more than 300 same-sex couples were able to marry. The validity of those marriages, and of the voter-approved ban on gay marriages that the judge tossed out, will be the focus of an Aug. 6 hearing before the appeals court in Cincinnati.
The excitement generated by that case boosted the energy level at this year's Pride Festival, participants said.
"This year, we're celebrating the accomplishments that have gotten us to this point in history," said Gregory Varnum, spokesman for Equality Michigan, a group leading the fight for same-sex marriage rights in the state. "This is a movement that's been working since the Mattachine Society in the 1950s."
Many people — from slain San Francisco City Councilman Harvey Milk to Ann Arbor Councilwoman Kathy Kozachenko, the first openly gay person elected to public office in 1974 — have worked hard to bring America to the point where gay marriage is gaining acceptance, Varnum said.
"Equality is not inevitable," he said. "It involves a lot of work."
Motor City Pride bills itself as Michigan's largest gathering celebrating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Tens of thousands have turned out this year.
Other sponsors include Comerica Bank, Delta Airlines, Ford, General Motors, Kroger, the United Auto Workers and Whole Foods.
Taking temporary shelter while waiting for the drizzle to stop, 29-year-old Ashley Howe of Southgate and her 19-year-old girlfriend Brandi Reber of Lincoln Park said they were enjoying the freedom to publicly hold hands and be themselves. It's something that can be lacking in their blue-collar southern Detroit suburbs.
"Downriver is still very backward," said Howe, who said she came out as a lesbian 10 years ago.
She said the possibility of gaining the right to marry excites her, and she was particularly moved to see DeBoer and Rowse.
"When they went by in the parade, I had tears in my eyes," Howe said. "It was very cool."