One of the world's oldest and largest gay pride parades turned into a carnival-like celebration of same-sex marriage Sunday as hundreds of thousands of revelers rejoiced at New York's new law giving gay couples the same marital rights as everyone else.
This year, the revelry was likely to go beyond floats, music and dancing. For the first time, it could include surprise engagements.
Throngs of cheering supporters greeted Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he led off the parade two days after signing the historic bill that made New York the sixth state to extend full marriage rights to gay couples.
"New York has sent a message to the nation," Cuomo said before the march down Fifth Avenue. "It is time for marriage equality."
Revelers hoisted signs that said "Thank you, Gov. Cuomo" and "Promise kept."
A half-million people were expected to participate.
Cuomo marched with his girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee, and openly gay elected officials, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The crowd, a dozen deep behind police barricades, whooped and screamed as hundreds of motorcycles roared down the avenue.
"I'm really, really proud of New York," said Hannah Thielmann, a student at Fordham University in the Bronx who attended with her girlfriend, Christine Careaga.
The couple, both 20, were dressed as brides.
Careaga said her mother called her crying tears of joy after the New York Senate voted on the measure Friday.
"Every mother wants her child to be happily married," Careaga said.
State Sen. Tom Duane, a Manhattan Democrat who is gay, welcomed the festivities.
"I always love the parade," Duane said. "It's like Christmas and New Year's all wrapped into one." This year, he said, the occasion would be "particularly joyous."
Duane said he and his partner first discussed marriage when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004 but opted not to make any decisions until it became legal in New York. They have not made any plans yet.
"That will be next week's project," Duane said.
The parade stepped off just after noon at 36th Street and Fifth Avenue and headed downtown. It ends at Greenwich and Christopher streets, near the site where gays rebelled against authorities and repressive laws outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969 — an event that gave rise to the gay rights movement.
A year later, several hundred people marched through the neighborhood to commemorate the riots in what is commonly considered the world's first gay pride parade.
This year's grand marshals include author and sex columnist Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, who married in Canada; the Rev. Pat Bumgardner, senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of New York and a proponent of gay rights; and the Imperial Court of New York, which raises money for gay health and social services.
The law signed by Cuomo takes effect in 30 days. It was passed amid opposition from influential religious groups in the state.