Amid heavy security and without many of the trappings of a traditional wedding, three gay couples were married Tuesday in a ceremony in Washington on the first day same-sex marriages were celebrated in the US capital.
Police cars lining the streets outside the headquarters building of gay rights group Human Rights Campaign as Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend became one of the first same-sex couples to be wed in Washington, just days after the US capital began issuing marriage licences to gay couples.
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.
"You are my friend, my partner, my love. I love you today, I love you tomorrow, I love you forever," Young told her partner of 12 years, bringing tears to Townsend's eyes as the couple were married in front of a group of around 100 well-wishers.
The 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 same-sex union law's entry in effect.
Hours after the Supreme Court decision, couples flocked to a courthouse in Washington to apply for marriage licences. 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.
A state supreme court decision in California briefly allowed same-sex unions but the ruling was overturned six months later by a referendum that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"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, 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 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 equal treatment for gays 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 stood, and policewomen stood in pairs on every corner of the intersection, some leaning against unused parking meters as they kept 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 the handful of protesters that had chanted anti-gay slogans and sung songs outside the courthouse when the couples applied for marriage licenses.
Besides a few fluffed lines and with the security presence threatening to dampen the mood at Washington's first gay weddings, the group ceremony went off with few snags and without an irate protester to mar the newlyweds' day.
"Today was like a dream to me," said a beaming Young after she and Townsend had exchanged vows.
"I always felt it would come true and today it's real -- this is my spouse," she said, hugging Townsend close.