NEW YORK (AP) -- Buoyant gay couples cheered by supporters began marrying today on the landmark day that New York became the sixth and largest state to recognize same-sex weddings and provided fresh energy to the national gay rights movement.
Couples began exchanging vows at midnight from Niagara Falls to Long Island, though the center of the action was in New York City, where officials expected to host hundreds of same-sex weddings throughout the day. About 100 couples waited in line on a sweltering morning in Manhattan for the chance to exchange vows at the city clerk's office.
Some people waiting to wed clutched bouquets and wore tuxedos or wedding dresses before they were ushered into the clerk's office for a license and a ceremony in one of the building's simple chapels.
The first couple to marry in Manhattan were Phyllis Siegel, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, who have been together for 23 years. Kopelov arrived in a wheelchair and stood with the assistance of a walker. During the service, Siegel wrapped her hand in Kopelov's hand and they both grasped the walker.
Witnesses cheered and wiped away tears after the two women vowed to "honor and cherish" each other as spouses and then kissed.
"I am breathless. I almost couldn't breathe," Siegel said after the ceremony. "It's mind-boggling. The fact that's it's happening to us -- that we are finally legal and can do this like everyone else."
Outside afterward, Siegel raised her arms exultantly as Kopelov, in a wheelchair, held out a marriage certificate.
Also in the first wave of couples to say "I do" in Manhattan were Daniel Hernandez, 53, and Nevin Cohen, 48, Manhattan residents who met in 1998. The two men, wearing matching navy sport jackets, kissed as a group of four friends clapped and news photographers' cameras snapped.
"It feels great," said Hernandez after the ceremony. "To have achieved this in my lifetime and see so many couples who have been loved and living together, to see them finally become part of a greater community of loving couples is phenomenal."
New York's adoption of legal same-sex marriage is viewed as a pivotal moment in the national gay rights movement and was expected to galvanize supporters and opponents alike. The state joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, along with Washington, D.C., when it voted last month to legalize gay marriage.
Protest rallies were planned in Manhattan, Buffalo, Rochester and Albany this afternoon. Gay marriage opponents unhappy that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers legalized same-sex marriage last month are calling for a statewide referendum on the issue.
Clerks in New York City and about a dozen other cities statewide opened their doors today to cater to same-sex couples. In New York City and other locations, judges waived a mandatory 24-hour waiting period that allowed couples to exchange vows moments after receiving their licenses.