Calling for legalizing same-sex marriage, a bill for which remains before the New York state senate, hundreds of thousands of people joined the colorful annual parade that marks the 1969 raid on the gay-friendly Stonewall Inn.
"Forty years after, we are still fighting for gay marriage, we are still fighting for the same rights as anyone else. One day, we are gonna get it," 25-year-old Lesha McKinzie told AFP.
"Everyone should have the right to be married. It doesn't matter if you are gay or not because marriage is a union of two people, it's love."
Flooding Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with dancers, rainbow balloons, speakers and drag queens, participants in the "gay pride" parade that has become a New York tradition were united in their call for equal rights to marriage.
"Gay marriage should be legalized everywhere," said Ben, a 16-year-old blond boy who had died his hair turquoise and held a rainbow-colored teddy bear in his arms.
The parade stretched from Central Park south toward Greenwich Village, the site of the legendary protests that launched the gay liberation movement on June 28, 1969.
In a far cry from the sometimes violent clashes four decades ago, dozens of gay female and male police officers participated in the march under the gaze of New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is seeking re-election, state governor David Paterson, who has seen a big dip in his poll numbers, and other local politicians took part in the march.
Bloomberg gave his backing to the activists, telling reporters that "people have the right to love who they want, marry who they want."
He added: "Let's just get on with it. We gotta focus on school and taxes and that sort of thing and not something where the government is interfering where it shouldn't."
John Jaruzel, a 50-year-old gay tourist from Colorado, said he first saw the marches in the late 1970s.
"I look at where we were 30 years ago, a parade like this would never have happened. We are getting there," noting that he had attend a church service earlier where Anglicans were talking about gay rights.
The burly man, who sported a leather jacket, admitted he was "disappointed" by the slow progress on the national debate about gay marriage rights, with only six states allowing legal gay marriage and the military still pursuing its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
"But civil rights took a long time, therefore we have to have patience," he cautioned.