WASHINGTON - After waiting for years for the chance to legally wed, gay couples walked down church aisles and exchanged vows in civil ceremonies in Washington Tuesday on the first day same-sex marriage was allowed in the US capital.
Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend, who have been a couple for 12 years, became one of the first same-sex couples to be wed in Washington, just days after the US capital began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
On a beautiful spring morning, Young, in a chiffon and lace peach-colored dress, exchanged vows with Townsend, wearing a white suit, and were pronounced "partners for life" by the Reverend David North in a ceremony held at the headquarters of gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Their history-making same-sex wedding in Washington was followed minutes later by another, when Reggie Stanley and Rocky Galloway, both 50, were married as their 15-month-old daughters Malena and Zoe looked on.
The Reverend Sylvia Sumter called on "the loving, loving father-mother God" to bless the union of the two African-American men who have been together for six years.
"Today, especially today, the arc of our rainbow universe is long and bends towards justice," Stanley said, paraphrasing slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The path was cleared for same-sex couples to wed in the US capital last week when the US Supreme Court refused a request to hold a referendum on gay marriage, which would have delayed the day same-sex unions became legal in Washington.
Hours after the Supreme Court decision, couples flocked to a courthouse in Washington to apply for marriage licenses. They then had to wait at least three business days before they could get married.
When the waiting period expired Tuesday, Washington joined a minority of states that allow gay couples to wed: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.
"Marriage is a gift that was long denied to everyone in DC, but today we open that gift," said the Reverend Dwayne Johnson as he married the third couple to be wed at the ceremony at the HRC headquarters, Darlene Garner, 61, and Lorilyn Candy Holmes, 53.
Legalization of gay marriage in the US capital was "a great step forward for equality," said Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty after the ceremony, as a police helicopter whirred loudly overhead.
"The United States has always been a place where people with different views have been welcomed and treated equally. Now, in Washington, everyone has the same opportunity to get married, no matter what their sexual preference," Fenty said.
David Catania, the DC council member who introduced the capital's marriage equality bill, and who is himself gay, said he was hopeful that the equality same-sex couples were enjoying in Washington would one day be commonplace around the United States.
"As sure as we stand in DC today with justice shining on us, it will one day shine across this great nation," said Catania.
Police cars were parked four-deep on every street leading into the junction where the HRC building stands, and policewomen stood in pairs on every corner of the intersection, keeping watch over the historic wedding ceremonies.
"We're making sure no protesters try to get too close," one of the policewomen told AFP, adding that there had been no sign of any anti-gay activists.
While strong security dampened the mood at the HRC weddings, the afternoon church wedding of Rick Imirowicz, a 43-year-old Catholic, and Terrance Heath, a practicing Buddhist two years his junior, was more traditional and peaceful.
There were no police cars or helicopters but also no bells rung or rice thrown when the two men, one white and one black, were married, as their two young sons looked on.
Mixed-race marriages only became legal in the United States in 1967 - although some states still banned them as late as 2000.
In 2008, Census Bureau data showed there were 4.3 million racially-mixed marriages in the country.
The hope among the same-sex couples who married Tuesday was that gay weddings would one day be as common as inter-racial marriages and attract the attention not of protesters and police but of friends, family and the society pages in newspapers.
"My children hopefully will grow up and look back on this day and wonder what the big deal was," said Heath after he and Imirowicz had been wed.