NEW YORK (AP) — It was a weekend of wedding proposals, wedding plans and earnest thanks. The hard-won right to same-sex marriage in New York state gave way to joyous thoughts of trips down the aisle becoming a reality, not just a dream, for many thousands of gay couples.
"New York has sent a message to the nation," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday before the colorful extravaganza that is New York City's annual gay pride parade. "It is time for marriage equality."
When Cuomo signed the gay marriage bill just before midnight Friday, New York became the sixth and largest state in the country to legalize gay marriage, reinvigorating the national gay rights movement that had stalled over a nearly identical bill in New York two years ago. The 33-29 vote by the state Senate followed days of contentious negotiations, the courting of undecided Republicans and opposition from influential religious groups. Pending any court challenges, the law takes effect in 30 days.
"We've been waiting to get married in Central Park for years, and now we got here just in time for history to be made," said Bryce Croft of Kettering, Ohio, who attended the parade festivities with her partner, Stephanie Croft.
The two women are not yet legally married although they share the same name, and they are in the process of moving to New York and getting married. They were in a Manhattan restaurant late Friday when they learned that the bill had passed.
"We cried over dinner, right into the mozzarella sticks," Stephanie Croft said, adding that they had already selected a spot in Central Park — the boulder she had marked with Bryce's name two years ago.
As he joined the parade procession, John Haracopos wore a T-shirt that declared, "Some dudes marry other dudes. Get over it." He and his partner regard the new law as a legal rubber-stamping of what they did years ago.
"We got married in the oldest church in Paris. And it was just us and God," said Haracopos, a 46-year-old hair stylist. Still, the pair plans to hold another ceremony in New York to ensure their relationship is fully recognized by the law.
His partner, Peter Marinos, a 59-year-old Broadway actor, wore a T-shirt of his own that said, "Marriage is so gay."
"Thank you, Governor Cuomo" and "Promise kept" read signs lining both sides of Manhattan's Fifth 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, with Careaga in a white veil and Thielmann wearing a black top hat and a sash that said, "Bride to Be."
Careaga said her mother called her crying tears of joy after the New York Senate voted on the marriage bill.
"Every mother wants her child to be happily married," Careaga said.
Same-sex marriage licenses also are granted by Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, plus Washington, D.C., and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon.
"This year's gay parade is different — it's electric!" said Mayor Michael Bloomberg's longtime companion, Diana Taylor. "You can really feel it, it's so exciting."
Cuomo marched with his girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee, Bloomberg and openly gay elected officials, including New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and state Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell — Rosie O'Donnell's gay brother — who introduced the bill last month.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly marched at the head of a group of gay NYPD officers, right behind the official police band. At the end of the parade, a female officer proposed publicly to her fiancée, also an officer, who accepted. They quickly vanished into the crowd.
New York's parade ended 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.
"If New York can do it, it's all right for everyone else in the country to do it," Cuomo said before the parade.