SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets Sunday for Gay Pride parades, energized by the Supreme Court's ruling that struck down laws against sodomy and a decision by Canada to allow gay marriage.
In New York, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities, revelers marched, danced and carried banners congratulating the Supreme Court for its landmark ruling as rainbow flag-waving crowds lined the streets.
"There's such a resonance, such a sense of movement," said Marty Downs, a community organizer with the New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. "This year, it feels really political."
In recent years Gay Pride marches have sometimes been as much about partying as politics, but participants said this year's celebrations were different because of Thursday's ruling that struck down a Texas law banning sodomy.
"We are thrilled with the decision," said Brian Carr, who, along with his partner, pushed their two 14-month-old adopted sons in strollers as participants in the San Francisco parade. "It makes us feel we are much more equal. We don't have to be afraid of who we are."
The 6-3 decision apparently swept away laws in a dozen states that ban oral and anal sex for everyone, or for homosexuals in particular. Both supporters and critics of the decision were quick to suggest it could lead to other legal advances for gays and lesbians -- including the right to gay marriage -- and organizers said a feeling of hope would carry over to the marches and celebrations this weekend.
Organizers of the Atlanta Pride Festival, now in its 33rd year, said they expected a crowd of 300,000, the largest in the parade's history. The ruling was cited as a factor in the big turnout.
"You couldn't ask for a better reason to come out and celebrate," said Philip Rafshoon, owner of Outwrite Bookstore in Atlanta's traditionally gay Midtown neighborhood. "A lot of people think (gay sex is) immoral. And, unfortunately for them, it's not illegal anymore."
On June 10, an Ontario appeals court ruled as unconstitutional Canada's definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman -- paving the way for legalized gay unions there.
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling, the committee that puts on San Francisco's massive parade, one of the best-attended events in the state, had decided to infuse this year's festivities with a more activist bent.
The parade's theme was "You Gotta Give Them Hope," a campaign slogan that belonged to San Francisco's first openly gay city supervisor, Harvey Milk, who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone 25 years ago this November. The SF Pride Committee also used the occasion to encourage people to lobby the state Senate to vote for pending legislation that would grant gay couples most of the same legal and financial benefits as married heterosexuals.
"We got a couple of breaks in the last few weeks, with Canada legalizing gay marriage and now the Supreme Court," said Supervisor Tom Ammiano, one of two candidates vying to become the city's first gay mayor this year. "It looks like Sandra Day O'Connor watching 'Will & Grace' really paid off."
Despite this year's historic backdrop, the events still maintained their colorful, Carnaval-like atmospheres. They featured naked cyclists, fluffy pink boas and floats swaying with singing drag queens. As in years past, the lesbian motorcycle group Dykes on Bikes got the San Francisco parade off to a roaring start with hundreds of leather-clad and topless women astride gunning machines.
"It's a big party," said Jeffrey Sykes, a 37, who has attended at least ten Gay Pride parades in San Francisco. "It's a chance to let it all hang out and celebrate who we are."
The parades also showcased the diversity of the gay and lesbian community and its supporters, with groups such as varied as the Log Cabin Republicans, the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance and Straights for Gay Rights marching to cheering crowds.
Speaking through a megaphone at the New York parade, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, took note of how much the political landscape for gays and lesbians had changed with a few short days.
"Let's hear it for gay pride," Schumer shouted. "Let's even hear it for the Supreme Court -- who ever thought we'd say that!"
As they basked in the recent victory, many participants said they looked forward to a new era of equality and respect.
"We're all together, one family," said Armando Gonzalez, 21, of Issaquah, Wash., who took part in Seattle's parade as a member of youth choir made up of both gay and straight singers. "There are no barriers."