KNOXVILLE - At this year’s PrideFest, 24 couples participated in the area’s first mass commitment ceremony. Surround by friends, family and other festival goers, the couples, whose relationships have lasted anywhere from six months to 28 years, all said their “I do’s” and kissed simultaneously.

Having been together for three years, Mystica and Chris were one of the couples that participated in the ceremony. They originally had their commitment date set for March but changed it when they heard about the mass ceremony.

“We just decided to go for it. Why wait? We’re in love,” Mystica said, who wore a white wedding dress with red flowers stitched on it.

Justin McKamey and Clay Davis have been together for 14 years — ever since high school. This was their first commitment ceremony, and they started wearing their rings before the ceremony.

“The opportunity arose,” he said, “and we’ve been together for so long.”

McKamey said the key to a lasting relationship is “real communication.” They met in an AOL chatroom, when it was popular at the time, before talking on the phone for a year.

“My dad paid for the cell phone,” McKamey said, “so when he got $600 cell phone bills, he was a little upset.”

Their paths had crossed multiple times without them realizing, as McKamey frequented the Krystal where Davis worked at the time. Eventually Davis asked McKamey to go to his youth group and they finally truly met each other for the first time. According to the men, it "really was" love at first sight.

“There wasn’t anybody after, it’s always been him,” McKamey said. “No matter how bad things get, no matter the stuff that happens, whatever the partner does or whatever comes into your life, talk it out. Don’t get mad. Don’t just run away from it. Just stick with it. It’s all about teamwork and communication.”

The ceremony started with children dropping red and pink rose peddles around the front of the stage. As each couple made their way forward, they poured colored sand into a glass container as they made their way toward the front. Surrounding the 24 couples during the ceremony were friends, family and observers.

The Rev. Jill Sizemore from the Metropolitan Community Church, the Rev. John Gill from Church of the Savior United Church of Christ, and Commissioner Amy Broyles from District 2 in Knox County proceeded over the ceremony.

The city of Knoxville recently added sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination ordinance. Nashville Metro Council passed a similar ordinance last year, but it was overturned by the state.

“Our new mayor is not only a woman, she’s progressive. She very, very smart. She had her law department craft it in such a way that the state cannot touch it,” Broyles said. She added that she hopes the county will pass a similar ordinance and this might help other cities draft similar legislation.

Broyles said see loved the festival: “I have a great time every year. I’ve been coming to these for years. Ever since they first started having them when I was, I guess in college.”

With a 6, 10 and 20 year old, she has taught her children to be proud of who they are. She said she was proud to answer her 6 year old daughter's question when she asked where she was going today. "She goes ‘well, who’s getting married today?’ I said a whole bunch of gay and lesbian couples. And she said ‘great!’ To them that’s just like anybody else.”

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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