September 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm EDT | by Sarah McKibben
Locals compete for $100,000 dream wedding

Darin Henderson and Carl Cox (Blade photo by Michael Key)

To celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in the District, Freedom2Wed is sponsoring a contest to give one lucky gay couple the wedding of a lifetime.

From hundreds of entries nationwide, six couples have been chosen to compete for the top prize. Among the finalists are Carl Cox, 43, and Darin Henderson, 46, a local pair who hope to represent their hometown as the winners. If they get the most online votes, they’ll receive a wedding package sponsored by area businesses that’s worth $100,000 and includes everything from rings to an all-inclusive ceremony and reception.

The event’s chief organizer, Michael Kress, photographer and owner of MBK & Associates, believes that the compelling stories of the diverse finalists “collectively emphasize why same-sex marriage is a historic marker for civil rights in this country.”

Together for four years, Cox and Henderson, who found each other on, have always valued open communication. When they initially started talking online, Cox was honest about not being ready for a long-term relationship — but Henderson was undeterred.

On their first date, Cox ventured from Baltimore to meet Henderson and the two enjoyed an unexpectedly intimate dinner at Blues Alley in Georgetown.

“Darin was persistent and extremely likeable,” Cox says.

After hitting it off that night, they started dating, and with time Cox became less guarded.

“[Darin] was gentle and took down my wall one brick at a time,” Cox says. “He was honest, made himself available, treated me with respect, and was completely invested in every moment we were spending together. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to.”

Henderson never doubted that Cox was worth the effort. A little over a year before they met, Henderson had a series of small heart attacks and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

He was out of work for six months and over that time, he reflected on what he wanted out of life. When he returned to work healthy, he was ready to embrace something entirely new.

“It was the right time for me to meet him,” Henderson says. “He offered a balance to me. I’m more serious and Carl is the funny one, always kidding around and cracking jokes.”

Henderson was especially attracted to Cox’s humble personality.

“He’s so warm and genuine, and he has such a big, kind heart,” Henderson says. “Carl would give the shirt off his back to anyone. He’s a passionate and loving person. Even when he was trying not to display that to me, it’s what I felt.”

After splitting their time between both cities for two years, Cox moved to D.C. The couple now lives in their Northeast Washington home near Union Station, along with their boxer, Cody, and cat, Buddy. They were engaged this January.

“We wanted to wait until [marriage] was legal in our hometown,” Henderson says.

While vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Cox sealed the deal by getting down on one knee and proposing to Henderson. Although they were already domestic partners and had exchanged rings, they still wanted to celebrate with their loved ones.

“Getting married is so important to me because when I am 60 or 70, I want to have that memory of when I told him how much I loved him in front of our friends and family,” Henderson says.

Declaring their love with family in attendance is non-negotiable for these self-proclaimed “mommas’ boys.” Their mothers, who appeared in the video entry for the contest, were more than happy to vouch for how much the couple deserves to win.

Henderson’s mom, Cherrie Henderson, insists that Cox, who calls her “Momma Two,” has always been like a son to her.

“It was comfortable from the start. We have a lot of fun together and they include me in a lot,” she says. “They compromise, share everything, and look out for each other. If I could have a relationship like that, I would be so happy.”

To do her part, Cherrie Henderson has been tirelessly campaigning for the couple in her hometown of Richmond, Va. She’s been calling and sending letters to gay bars, posting fliers and handing out contest details. Unbeknownst to the couple, she also wrote “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” promising she’d dance for the TV host in exchange for getting the word out about the couple.

Cox’s mom, Nancy Cox, of Annapolis, Md., is pulling for them to win because “it would give them the opportunity to have something they can’t have on their own,” she says. She says she’s inspired largely by the couple’s honesty.

“They’re special because they are who they are. There’s nothing phony about them.”

Blessed with a supportive network of family and friends, Cox and Henderson have always been open about their sexual orientation.

“I’ve never been ashamed of who I am, so I tote my flag, so to speak,” Henderson says.

Both men try to stay involved in LGBT causes. Cox, who owns Baltimore-based design firm Incite Creative, Inc., does pro bono work for organizations like Moveable Feast, a meal delivery service for homebound people living with AIDS. And Henderson, a director of operations for Xerox, is a member of the company’s LGBTA employee caucus. He also testified before D.C. City Council on behalf of same-sex marriage, earning him major points with Cox.

“I was proud of him then and am proud of him today,” Cox says. “As a result of his testimony and that of hundreds of others, marriage equality can now be enjoyed and protected here in D.C. … a place we call home.”

Counting the days until they walk down the aisle, Cox and Henderson are hoping that with the votes of the local community, they’ll have the wedding they always dreamed of.

Regardless of the outcome, they’re just happy that Freedom2Wed is celebrating the diversity of love on a national scale.

“The contest is putting the word out, telling the world that we have every right to express our love,” Cox says. “Marriage is about two individuals who want to share their lives with each other, and it doesn’t have to be between a man and a woman. Win or lose this competition, that’s the main message to get out there. Love is love.”

To vote for the couple, visit Votes will be accepted through Sept. 30.

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