NEW YORK Two days after the state legalized same-sex marriages, New York's annual Gay Pride Parade seemed more like a brash, colorful wedding procession on Sunday than an annual rally.
Parade organizers estimated as many as 2 million spectators turned out to celebrate the 42nd annual LGBT Pride March on Sunday. Many considered it the most electric in the Parade's history.
Although this year's theme was "Proud and Powerful," the New York gay community feted the legalization of same-sex marriage, which was signed into law late on Friday by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
"I have participated in it for many years, but it is extra special today," Cuomo said at a news conference before the parade set off.
"I am so proud to be the governor of this state and to sign this law into effect," he added.
Cuomo, who wore a colorful gay pride flag tucked in his jacket pocket, marched alongside New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Cheers rang out from the crowd whenever the governor was announced, with many holding "Thank you Governor Cuomo" and "You kept your promise" signs.
"I believe New York has sent a message to this nation loud and clear," the governor said. "It is time for marriage equality all across this country."
The New York Gay Pride Parade is one of the largest and most popular gay events in the United States. It began in 1970 to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event often cited as the start of the American gay rights movement.
A number of local groups marched this year, including New Yorkers United for Marriage, the New York Gay Officers Action League and a fire truck led by the lesbian and gay firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Marching bands and flashy costumes were part of the kaleidoscopic parade as they made their way through the city streets.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who was attending his eleventh parade, shook hands with spectators. "I've been to ten parades, and this is the biggest and happiest yet," he said.
Amy Allison, 58, attended the very first parade 41 years ago when she was 17, and said that today it meant a lot more to everyone attending.
"Forty-one years ago, we were marching to feel proud because we were a member of an oppressed minority," she said holding a sign that read "Proud to be a Gay New Yorker."
"Today we are celebrating assimilation, inclusion and the changing consciousness of a nation," she said.
New York is the sixth, and most populous, U.S. state to legalize gay marriage. It joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
(Editing by Wendell Marsh and Tim Gaynor)