NEW YORK CITY — Hours after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday, clearing the way for thousands of same-sex couples in the city to receive federal benefits, New Yorkers celebrated at a rally outside the historic Stonewall Inn.
Hundreds of people crammed a block of Stonewall Place in Greenwich Village to hear plaintiff Edie Windsor and elected officials speak around 5:30 p.m.
The decision — hailed by gay New Yorkers who flocked to Lower Manhattan to get married — will enable gay couples in all states that have legalized same-sex marriage to get federal tax, health and retirement benefits that were previously unavailable to them.
Windsor — an 84-year-old New Yorker who filed the case against the federal government in 2010 after she was forced to pay more than $300,000 in taxes on the inheritance from her late wife, Thea Spyer — beamed at the rally and said she was "honored and humbled by the decision."
"To the Supreme Court, thank you for affirming the principle of equal justice under the law," she said. "If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it. She would be so pleased."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn praised Windsor's tenacity and said the government had crossed the wrong woman.
"The federal government picked the wrong New Yorker to screw with when they sent Edie that tax bill!" Quinn screamed into the microphone, receiving some of the biggest cheers of the evening.
Gay couples from around the New York City area rushed to the City Clerk's Lower Manhattan office to be the first to get married after the historic decision.
Anthony Newarski, 51, and Rick Goeden, 48, drove two hours from Asbury Park, N.J., where same-sex marriage is not legal, and were married an hour after the 10 a.m. decision.
"We got fed up waiting in New Jersey," Goeden said.
"We were the first," Newarski added. "I thought I'd never see this in my lifetime."
The Supreme Court ruling brought City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to tears as she hailed the decision at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Quinn married her longtime partner Kim Catullo in May 2012.
“We were all waiting for months and months. All of our hopes and dreams came true today," Quinn said, after wiping away tears.
The 5-4 Supreme Court decision overrules the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Bill Clinton.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, saying DOMA had made gay marriages "unequal" to heterosexual ones.
“Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways,” Kennedy wrote in the opinion.
Gay New Yorkers who have married since the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2011 were effectively barred from federal benefits up until this point. With the Supreme Court ruling, those couples will be seen as identical to straight ones in the eyes of hundreds of federal agencies.
For couples in which one partner is a foreigner, the ruling will allow married gay New Yorkers to apply for green cards.
"Of course Edith Windsor is a New Yorker," Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office tweeted shortly after the ruling. "NYC was the birthplace of the gay rights movement, and it's where all people are free [to] be themselves."
In a separate decision, the court declined to rule on a case challenging Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in California. The decision effectively allowed same-sex marriage in that state, but maintained other states' right to ban gay marriage.
After the decision, jubilant same-sex couples packed into the Stonewall in Greenwich Village, where the modern gay-rights movement launched in 1968.
“We’ve been working on this for such a long time. It’s enormous,” said an exuberant Mary Jo Kennedy, 58, a doctor from Brooklyn, as she stood next to her wife, Jo-Ann Shain, and their daughter.
“Today," added Shain, 60, "the Supreme Court made us fully whole."
With Andrea Swalec, Trevor Kapp, Mathew Katz and Gustavo Solis