NEW YORK (REUTERS) - With cheers, tears and kisses, gays and lesbians across the United States celebrated Wednesday's historic Supreme Court decision in support of same-same marriage, which provided cause for joy after years of protest.
Crowds turned out in gay meccas such as West Hollywood, San Francisco, South Miami Beach and the New York gay bar called The Stonewall Inn, seen as the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
"It's so wonderful being down here celebrating and not protesting for a change," Roger Silva, 69, said outside the Stonewall, grateful that a New York law allowed him to marry his partner of 11 years in April. "I never thought this would be possible in New York, much less the country."
In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court forced the federal government to recognise same-sex marriages in states where it is legal and in a separate ruling it cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California.
Stonewall has become synonymous with gay rights since a police raid there on June 28, 1969, triggered a spontaneous and violent demonstration that popularised the slogan "Out of the closet and into the streets."
A jubilant crowd of several hundred gathered on Wednesday afternoon, many carrying US flags and the rainbow flags that have been adopted by the movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.
"It feels like we're whole. It's solid. It's increasingly moving," said Alex Gardner, 43, tears welling in his eyes as he walked through the crowd with his husband, Rosario Gennaro, and their two small children.
Others had mixed emotions.
"There's a bit of wistfulness - if I was younger, at the bottom rung, to enjoy all those benefits. But yes it is a great day," said Bruce Ward, 55, a writer.
In San Francisco, where an outspoken movement carried the flag for gay rights after Stonewall, about 100 clergy members from all faiths celebrated the two Supreme Court decisions outside Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill.
"Let this day be carried into every dark closet where way too many of our people are still forced to live," Rabbi Reuben Zellman of Berkeley said in a closing prayer on the cathedral's steps, as he stood under an archway of rainbow-colored balloons.
Down the California coast in West Hollywood, married partners Jason Howe and Adrian Perez, both 48, arrived early for a rally with their twin daughters, Olivia and Clara.
"It means that my daughters are never going to have to explain that their family is second-class," Howe said of the decisions.
Added Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr., who runs a popular celebrity blog under the assumed name Perez Hilton: "Today means that we have successfully educated America."
In South Beach, hundreds gathered at the LGBT visitors' centre to celebrate and to declare that more work was left to be done, particularly in Florida, where a 2008 constitutional amendment outlawed same-sex marriages.
Amid hugs, kisses and congratulations, some people wished each other "Happy Pride Day" and "Happy Gay Day." "We have waited a long time for this ... We really cannot overstate how big a step forward this is," said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida.
Others engaged in legal discussions about the Supreme Court decision and the Florida law, with the common refrain that "we still have a long way to go."
Jack Tufano, 40, an architect, said he felt "relief" when the decision was announced "because my husband and I have been waiting" to get his US citizenship. The two got married last year in New York.
"First thing we're going to do tomorrow is call the lawyer to get started," he said.