NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — New York state ushered in gay marriage at the stroke of midnight Sunday, with a Buffalo couple among the first to wed.

Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd said “I do” moments after midnight on Goat Island, with rainbow-colored lights on Niagara Falls in the background. The couple have been together for more than 12 years.

The New York Times reported that after a bell rang in the new day, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster said, “By the power vested in me by the laws of the state of New York, I now pronounce you legally married.” Lambert, 54, and Rudd, 53, kissed in front of more than 100 friends and family members, the Times said.

“We’re so proud of everybody who crawled up this hill with us,” Lambert said Saturday evening before the wedding, BuffaloNews.com reported.

According to a tweet by Danny Hakim, Albany bureau chief for The New York Times, Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings claimed he beat the Niagara Falls wedding with a private ceremony in his office for two longtime friends. “Done by 12:01,” according to the tweet.

Whoever was first, thousands more gay and lesbian New Yorkers were getting ready to say “I do” this weekend, as the Empire State became the sixth in the U.S. to embrace same-sex marriage.

A state law signed June 24 by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo went into effect at 12:01 on Sunday. In New York city alone, 823 couples planned to wed.

People were waiting outside city halls across New York state for the chance.

“This is long overdue,” Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan told the Times. Ryan was set to preside at the marriages of at least two local couples, and had invited couples from Pennsylvania to come to Binghamton to get married, the newspaper reported. 

“It really is a great day for all of us who believe in inclusiveness and equal rights for everybody,” he told the newspaper.

In preparation for the crush of well-wishers and media, police on Friday installed barricades near the Manhattan marriage bureau, where 459 same-sex couples are to be married on Sunday.

With the addition of New York, same-sex marriage will be legal in six of the 50 U.S. states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont — and the District of Columbia.

Gay rights activists say the move by New York, the most populous state to date to allow gay marriage, sends a clear signal to Washington that it’s time to push changes to federal laws.

“This historic step shows that marriage equality is an increasingly nonpartisan issue,” said Herndon Graddick, a senior director of programs at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“Republicans and Democrats joined the majority of Americans who agree that equal protections under the law for loving and committed couples is the only option in a healthy and just society.”

A recent Siena poll found that 58 percent of New Yorkers support gay marriage. Nationally, the U.S. public is nearly evenly split, with 45 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.

Gay and civil rights activists want to see changes to a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

President Barack Obama’s administration in February concluded that the 15-year-old law that prohibits same-sex couples from receiving marriage-based federal benefits was unconstitutional and indefensible in law.

In another victory for gay rights advocates, President Obama on Friday announced the U.S. military’s ban on gays will end on Sept. 20.

The move will make good good on his 2008 campaign promise to end the 18-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forced gays to keep their sexual orientation secret in order to serve in the military.

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