NEW YORK — Only days after the Supreme Court used her lawsuit to grant same-sex couples federal marriage benefits, Edith Windsor helped lead New York City's Gay Pride march on Sunday.
Signs along the route read, "Thank you, Edie" — celebrating Windsor for her successful challenge of a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
"If somebody had told me 50 years ago that I would be the marshal of New York City's gay pride parade in 2013, at the age of 84, I wouldn't have believed it."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined hundreds of bikers whose motorcycles roared to life at noon to kick off the celebration, a colorful cavalcade of activists and others who marched down Fifth Avenue 44 years after the city's first pride march.
A color guard, a cadre of gay police officers and longtime couples all took part in the procession on a route where a rainbow of balloons arched overhead. Half of one couple carried a sign reading "Just Married Today" while the other tossed flowers into the crowd.
Longtime LGBT activist Cathy Renna said Windsor's suit and the Supreme Court's favorable ruling in a challenge to Proposition 8, the California gay marriage ban, made this year's celebration special.
"It is an especially thrilling year to march this year," she said. "I have seen more real progress in the past three years than the nearly two decades of activism before it."
But, she added, "we must remain vigilant; hate crimes, discrimination and family rejection loom in our lives still."
A spate of recent hate crimes in New York provide a stark reminder of work left to be done. In one case last month, police said a gunman used homophobic slurs before firing a fatal shot into a man's face on a Manhattan street alive with a weekend midnight crowd. The city's police commissioner called it an anti-gay hate crime.
A. Carlos Cardinas, a native of Colombia who lives in Queens, is a transvestite who dressed up in festive attire for the day: a green sequined top with a salmon-colored flower ringing the waist.
"We are so happy to live free in America," said Cardinas, a hairdresser who is engaged to be married to his boyfriend.
Carl Siciliano, who heads the Ali Forney drop-in center for homeless gay youth in Harlem, said he's happy about the court decision. But he said the humanitarian fight is not over.
"Now that our adults have won this wonderful victory, it is time for us to begin to build a safety net for the more than 200,000 homeless LGBT youth who are stranded on America's streets without shelter," said Siciliano.
Windsor said she long enjoyed the parade with her late wife, Thea Spyer, whom she married in Canada as Spyer was dying in 2007.
In 2009, she suffered a heart attack a month after Spyer's death. While recovering, Windsor faced a hefty bill for inheritance taxes — more than $363,000, because Spyer was, legally, just a friend.
On Sunday, Windsor was one of three grand marshals, joining musician and activist Harry Belafonte and Earl Fowlkes, head of the Center for Black Equity.
"I have marched in the parade for the last several years carrying a huge rainbow flag," she said. "Last year, I was so elated that I danced my way down the whole street, for the entire route of the parade."