Mini-mass wedding is smaller historic gay rights moment than they wanted

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 20, 2010

According to Mike Wilkinson's datebook, Saturday is the day that history would be made. It's the day when 400 same-sex couples would stand shoulder to shoulder in a gilded ballroom between the White House and the U.S. Capitol and finally, legally, be wed. The event he organized would break the Guinness World Record for the largest mass-marriage ceremony, and far more important than that, it would become the lasting, internationally recognized image of gay equality in Washington, D.C. Freedom would ring with a giant chorus of "I do." And the love in the room, Wilkinson hoped, might serve as its own rebuttal to those who oppose gay marriage.

But sometimes, even if you build it, they don't come.

Or, at least, not so many of them.

Turns out only 15 couples registered for the event.

The thinking was this: The gay marriage equality movement was conducted en masse, so the triumph should be similarly shared.

"We've marched together and we've advocated for this for so long together," Wilkinson said two weeks ago. "My dream for this event is for couples to come into this space and look across the room and see other couples who've been waiting just as long and be able to celebrate with them and all feel happy together."

Also, he thought, it would "make a big splash for our company."

Wilkinson is a 27-year-old, clean-cut, baby-faced Richmond native -- a planner by nature and profession. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, he came to the District and got a job putting his organizational skills to use as an events coordinator for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which provides health services for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.

He moved on to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in recent years, but when it became apparent the same-sex marriage bill would pass in the District, Wilkinson, who is gay, couldn't resist the urge to get involved.

He reached out to Jenna Mack, owner of the local planning company Event Emissary, and together they set up a GLBT wedding services division. In January, the two found themselves at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, an immense Constitution Avenue NW venue that Event Emissary manages, when Wilkinson turned Mack and described his vision.

"We want to do something with flair and we came up with the idea to break the Guinness World Record for largest wedding," he recalls, excitedly. "Cause it's such a big, big space, we have to fill it and we kind of thought, 'Well what is the record? and would this be something we could do?' "

The truth is, they didn't know. But the Unification Church, famous for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's officiating at weddings of thousands in the 1980s, never bothered to get the Guinness folks involved, which would have required an official verification and the submission of marriage certificates. So the record on the books was 168 couples, Wilkinson says, a number they were confident they could beat.

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