An idea to celebrate same-sex marriage equality in Pennsylvania has blossomed into a plan for an eight-hour party complete with a wedding ceremony, religious outreach, drag queens and more.
Organizers are expecting between 2,000 and 3,000 people to attend the downtown York City event scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 3, in Cherry Lane.
The response has been so overwhelmingly positive that organizers have begun the process of creating an Equality Fest nonprofit "so that this can become an annual event with an independent board that can make this happen every single year," said Carla Christopher, York City's former poet laureate and its new arts and culture liaison.
Several churches, LGBT advocacy groups, Planned Parenthood, York College, Penn State, business groups, elected officials and the mayor's office are among the event's long list of sponsors.
The churches and the YWCA, for example, will have representatives and licensed counselors at the event to staff a "reconciliation tent," where people who may have once felt shunned by religious organizations can reconnect with their faith.
"They can receive prayer. They can talk to members of the faith community and feel like there's a place for them, a home for their beliefs," said James Sawor, one of the organizers.
Christopher said she expects some people will be "really emotional at the festival."
"I would like for them to have a safe space to withdraw to if they get overwhelmed, if they get really emotional — a place where they can be nurtured," she said.
Children's area: The event also will feature a children's area with crafts, activities and performers.
More than two dozen performers — including poets, musicians and drag queens — will perform on stages in Cherry Lane and West Clarke Avenue.
Organizers of foodstruck have signed on to book food vendors for the event.
Best friends Christopher and Sawor started planning the event after a U.S. District Court judge struck down Pennsylvania's 1996 law banning recognition of same-sex marriage May 20.
Sawor is a member of the York City School District school board and the city's Human Relations Commission, which is co-sponsoring the event.
He said the event will probably always cater to the LGBT community primarily.
"But the reason that we chose to call it an Equality Fest, rather than York Gay Pride or something like that, is really to make it into a festival that is all-encompassing," Sawor said.
Weddings: So far, four same-sex couples have registered to marry that day, including Christopher and her fiancee, Tameca Waid.
Straight couples — and anyone wishing to renew their vows — are also welcome to sign up by July 15. Couples must obtain a York County marriage license before registering.
To register, call (717) 849-2221. There's a fee of $25 for York City residents and $50 for non-residents.
Mayor Kim Bracey will officiate the ceremony.
Christopher said the mayor has set a limit of 10 couples, but there is some flexibility in that number.
Several elected officials, including state Rep. Kevin Schreiber and District Judge Joel Toluba, will offer congratulations and speeches.
The event will kick off at noon and last until 8 p.m.
The wedding ceremony is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.