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(Reuters) - With cheers, tears and kisses, gays and lesbians across the United States celebrated Wednesday's historic Supreme Court decision in support of same-sex marriage, which provided cause for joy after years of protest.
Crowds turned out in gay capitals such as West Hollywood in California, San Francisco, South Miami Beach in Florida and the New York gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, seen as the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
"It's so wonderful being down here celebrating and not protesting for a change," Roger Silva, 69, said outside the Stonewall, grateful that a New York law allowed him to marry his partner of 11 years in April. "I never thought this would be possible in New York, much less the country."
In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal and in a separate ruling it cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California.
Stonewall has become synonymous with gay rights since a police raid there on June 28, 1969, triggered a spontaneous and violent demonstration that popularized the slogan "Out of the closet and into the streets."
A jubilant crowd of several hundred gathered on Wednesday afternoon, many carrying U.S. flags and the rainbow flags that have been adopted by the movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.
At least one man had mixed emotions.
"There's a bit of wistfulness - if I was younger, at the bottom rung, to enjoy all those benefits. But yes it is a great day," said Bruce Ward, 55, a writer.
In San Francisco, where an outspoken movement carried the flag for gay rights after Stonewall, about 100 clergy members from all faiths celebrated the two Supreme Court decisions outside Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill.
Across town in The Castro, a neighborhood at the center of gay life in the city, more than 2,000 people gathered in the street, many waving rainbow flags and equal signs. Dance music blared from loudspeakers and children bounced on the shoulders of their parents.
Down the California coast in West Hollywood, more than 1,000 attended a rally in which same-sex couples brought their children, joining young celebrants including a woman in a rainbow-colored ballet tutu and at least two in rainbow bikinis.
"It means that my daughters are never going to have to explain that their family is second-class," said Jason Howe, who arrived with his married partner Adrian Perez and their twin daughters, Olivia and Clara.
Added Mario Armando Lavandeira Jr., who runs a popular celebrity blog under the assumed name Perez Hilton: "Today means that we have successfully educated America."
In South Beach, hundreds gathered at the LGBT visitors' center to celebrate and to declare that more work was left to be done, particularly in Florida, where a 2008 constitutional amendment outlawed same-sex marriages.
Amid hugs, kisses and congratulations, some people wished each other "Happy Pride Day" and "Happy Gay Day."
"We have waited a long time for this ... We really cannot overstate how big a step forward this is," said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida.
Others engaged in legal discussions about the Supreme Court decision and the Florida law, with the common refrain that "we still have a long way to go."
Jack Tufano, 40, an architect, said he felt "relief" when the decision was announced "because my husband and I have been waiting" to get his U.S. citizenship. The two got married last year in New York.
"First thing we're going to do tomorrow is call the lawyer to get started," he said.
Reporting by Edith Honan in New York; Zachary Fagenson in South Beach, Florida; Dana Feldman in West Hollywood, California; and Noah Berger and Ronnie Cohen in San Francisco; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Stacey Joyce and Lisa Shumaker