SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gay rights supporters crowded parade routes in San Francisco, New York and other major U.S. cities to celebrate what once was unimaginable — two Supreme Court victories on same-sex marriage.
The high court gave celebrants one more reason to cheer Sunday when Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected a last-ditch effort by opponents to stop gay marriages in California.
Among the thousands at San Francisco's event, now in its 43rd year, were scores of teenage girls, opposite-sex couples and families with children.
"You can feel the smiles," Graham Linn, 42, of Oakland said as he stood on a three-foot-tall building ledge surveying crowds 10-deep on the sidewalks. "All around you there is a release. There is a vindication, and you can feel it."
The biggest applause went up for the two newlywed couples whose legal challenge of Proposition 8 made it possible for Californians to wed.
The couples — Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Berkeley, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo of Burbank — waved from convertibles as a group of people carried cartoon-style signs that read, "Prop. 8-Kapow!"
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who orchestrated the lawsuit, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for the movie about the slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, marched with them.
"It's so historic," Jeff Margolis, 58, said. "So many of us could never imagine this would happen, that people would be able to do what they want for the rest of their lives."
Loud cheers went to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Kamala Harris — straight politicians who have been vocal advocates of same-sex marriage.
San Francisco's parade lineup illustrated how mainstream support for same-sex marriage has become. Companies such as Facebook and supermarket chain Safeway were represented. Police officers and sheriff's deputies marched while holding hands.
There was also a group that called itself "Mormons for Marriage" that drew enthusiastic applause. The Mormon Church was one of the main sponsors of Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down Proposition 8 and also invalidated part of a 1996 federal law that denied spousal benefits to gay couples. On Sunday morning, Justice Kennedy denied a last-ditch request from the sponsors of Proposition 8, who argued that a lower court on Friday prematurely allowed gay marriages to continue in the nation's most populous state before the high court finalized its ruling.
Ron Prentice, chief executive of the California Family Council, a Proposition 8 sponsor said its legal team will continue to fight to keep marriage between a man and a woman.
"Last week's Supreme Court decision against the federal Defense of Marriage Act has encouraged same-sex 'marriage' supporters across the country who believe it is now 'open season' on marriage in every state," he said in a written statement. "The team continues to work around the clock to identify the best legal strategies to limit same-sex 'marriage' in California, and nationally."
San Francisco City Hall remained open on Sunday so couples who wanted to marry could obtain their licenses. Every other clerk in California's 58 counties will be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses starting Monday.
Parade organizers planned to hold a VIP reception for the newlyweds following the parade.
The parade in New York City, where the first pride march was held 44 years ago to mark the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots that kicked off the modern gay rights movement, also was a sort of victory lap for Edith Windsor, the 84-year-old widow who challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act after she was forced to pay $363,053 on the estate of her late wife.
Windsor, who was picked as a grand marshal of New York's parade months before she won her case before the Supreme Court last week, walked up Fifth Avenue during the event and recalled watching it on television in past years with her wife, Thea Spyer, before Spyer died in 2009.
"I love it obviously," she said. "If someone had told me 50 years ago that I would be the marshal of New York City gay pride parade in 2013 at the age of 84, I never would have believed it."
In Seattle, the two women who were the first same-sex couple to be granted a marriage license in Washington state after same-sex marriage became legal there last year, Jane Abbot Lighty and Pete-e Petersen, helped raise a giant marriage equality sign featuring a red equal sign on top of the city's iconic Space Needle for the first time.
In another first, the Seattle Mariners flew a rainbow flag — the symbol of gay pride first unfurled during San Francisco's parade in 1978 — during their game Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.
The Supreme Court wins motivated many first-time pride parade spectators, including Michael Pence, 53, and John Moehnke, 46, of North Carolina. The couple, who are engaged and plan to marry in New York in the fall, attended Chicago's annual Pride Parade with a church group, saying they were thrilled about the court decisions and want to see gay marriage extended to Illinois and other states.
"We have such a long way to go but we're ready for the fight," Moehnke said.
Efforts to legalize gay marriage in Illinois have stalled. Advocates started the year with intense momentum and received backing from President Barack Obama and Illinois' top political leaders. The measure cleared the Illinois Senate on Valentine's Day, state Rep. Greg Harris, the bill's sponsor, decided not to call a vote in the House because he didn't have the needed support.
Harris was one of several politicians at the parade Sunday. He said he would bring back the issue in the fall, adding that the Supreme Court's rulings have resonated with his colleagues in the Illinois House.
"Illinois is in a truly second-class status until we pass marriage equality," Harris said.
Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen in Chicago, AP Radio Correspondent Julie Walker in New York and AP Photographer Elaine Thompson in Seattle contributed to this story.