A familiar soundtrack of police choppers, emergency sirens and rhythmic chants could be heard outside the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany on June 6 in Philadelphia, where Brad Luna and Adam Ouanes had just been married by the Rev. Robert Smith, an Episcopal priest.
Mr. Luna, 43, and Mr. Ouanes, 31, walked out of the church and into Philadelphia history, bearing witness to the largest number of protesters gathering against racism and police brutality ever to march through Center City, where the couple has lived the last five years.
“No justice, no peace,” the protesters shouted in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. “No justice, no peace.”
“At first, all I could see was this explosion of colors and signs and people,” said Mr. Ouanes, who received a master’s degree in social service from Bryn Mawr College last month. “We were kind of shocked.”
Mr. Luna, an owner of a public relations firm in Washington (he graduated from the University of Tulsa), said the 12-person wedding party found itself in a most awkward position, high atop a flight of stairs, looking down at the protesters walking on the street.
“It was as if we were on a stage,” he said.
In a way, they were, Mr. Ouanes said. “Many of the protesters were just kind of staring at us, waiting for some kind of reaction,” he said. “So we just started applauding them.”
In turn, the marchers applauded the newlyweds, many raising their fists in solidarity with the same-sex couple.
“I’m standing there thinking ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly why I was able to get married today, by doing what these people are doing right now,’” said Mr. Ouanes, who graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
“When people unify together and stand up for what is right, change happens,” he added “So for me, it was a perfect full-circle moment.”
Victoria Boyer, a friend of the couple who participated in the march, spotted them on the church steps.
”Their love has always been inspiring,” Ms. Boyer said. “But that day, it held another meaning.”
Mr. Luna, the former communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest L.G.B.T. civil rights organization, which is based in Washington, said that during the planning of their wedding, he and Mr. Ouanes “have been very sensitive to the backdrop of what is going on in this country.”
Five days before their nuptials, the couple sent their 10 attendees a letter of concern that began: “Our hearts are heavy as we think about what has happened in our country and our city over the past several days. The destruction around our city and the deep trauma and pain the black community continues to face is devastating, and change is desperately needed.”
Mr. Luna and Mr. Ouanes were originally supposed to be married at the Powel House museum in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they moved their ceremony to St. Luke, canceled the reception, and shrank their 100-person guest list to 10. Other family and friends were able to watch the proceedings via Zoom.
But the couple, who share a home less than a block from Church of St. Luke, were able to keep their original wedding date, which was important to the couple because June is L.G.B.T. Pride Month, “and it was five years this month that the Supreme Court’s Marriage Equality ruling was issued,” Mr. Luna said.
Mr. Luna and Mr. Ouanes, whose ceremony started at 4 p.m., saw a police chopper patrolling the skies that morning, and knew that a protest would be taking place later that day, but never considered it a scheduling conflict.
“In addition to the historic importance of June, we had also been engaged for three years, so we were really ready to be married,” Mr. Luna said.
“There was even a tornado-watch going on that day, but we plowed ahead and I’m really glad we did,” he said, “because that moment we shared with the Black Lives Matter protesters was one of the most meaningful and exciting moments of our lives.”