updated 11/12/2008 7:04:34 PM ET 2008-11-13T00:04:34

Same-sex couples walked joyfully down the aisle Wednesday for the first time in Connecticut, while gay activists planned to march in protests across the country over the vote that took away their right to marry in California.

Carrying red roses and a marriage license, Jody Mock and Elizabeth Kerrigan, who led the lawsuit that that overturned Connecticut's law, emerged from West Hartford's town hall to the cheers of about 150 people.

"We feel very fortunate to live in the state of Connecticut, where marriage equality is valued, and hopefully other states will also do what is fair," Kerrigan said.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Oct. 10 that same-sex couples have the right to wed rather than accept a 2005 civil union law designed to give them the same rights as married couples. A lower-court judge entered a final order permitting same-sex marriage Wednesday morning.

Gay marriage advocates said they were planning nationwide demonstrations this weekend in more than 175 cities and outside the U.S. Capitol. A Seattle blogger was trying to organize simultaneous protests outside statehouses and city halls in every state Saturday.

In New York City, several hundred protesters planned to march later Wednesday on the Mormon Temple on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The church had encouraged its members to support the California ban.

"We're not trying to convey an image of persecution, we're not trying to attack any specific group," said Ryan McNeely, an organizer for the Join the Impact protest movement. "The point we need to be making is that we need to bring everybody together and to respect each other, and that hate breeds hate."

'It's thrilling today'
Outside City Hall in New Haven, bubbles and white balloons bounced in the chilly autumn air as well-wishers cheered the marriage of Peg Oliveira and Jennifer Vickery.

Despite the roaring traffic and clicking cameras, "it was surprisingly quiet," Oliveira said after the brief ceremony. "Everything else dissolved, and it was just the two of us. It was so much more personal and powerful in us committing to one another, and so much less about the people around us."

According to the state public health department, 2,032 civil union licenses were issued in Connecticut between October 2005 and July 2008.

Video: Connecticut allows gay marriage But there was no comparison between civil unions and marriage for Robin Levine-Ritterman and Barbara Levine-Ritterman, who obtained a civil union in 2005 and were among eight same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry.

"We didn't do it with pride or joy," Barbara Levine-Ritterman said of getting the civil-union license. "It felt gritty to be in a separate line."

On Wednesday, however, she proudly held up the first same-sex marriage license issued in New Haven as about 100 people applauded outside City Hall. She and her betrothed, who held red roses, plan to marry in May.

"It's thrilling today," Barbara Levine-Ritterman said. "We are all in one line for one form. Love is love, and the state recognizes it."

Manchester Town Clerk Joseph Camposeo, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said clerks in the state's 169 communities were advised by e-mail shortly after 9:30 a.m. that they could start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The health department had new marriage applications printed that reflect the change. Instead of putting one name under "bride" and the other under "groom," couples will see two boxes marked "bride/groom/spouse."

Massachusetts is the only other state allowing gay marriages. Like the highest courts in that state and Connecticut, the California Supreme Court ruled this spring that same-sex marriage is legal. After about 18,000 thousand such unions were conducted in California, however, its voters last week approved Proposition 8, a referendum banning the practice.

'A great story'
Gay rights groups said Wednesday they plan to ask California voters to overturn the ban if legal challenges to Proposition 8 are unsuccessful.

Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage also passed last week in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.

Gay rights advocates are citing Massachusetts as an example at planned rallies this weekend to demonstrate why gay marriage is beneficial to families and children.

"In Massachusetts, in particular, we have a great story to tell, a great story to tell about marriage equality, that it works and that it's good," said Marc Solomon, executive director of MassEquality.

Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes gay marriage, said planned and past protests, some of which have been angry in tone and targeted churches, are meant to intimidate the California high court into invalidating Proposition 8.

"We are a nation that goes by the rule of law," he said. "No court should ever be intimidated by mob rule. And that's what our opponents right now are trying to do."

The California vote has sparked protests and several lawsuits asking that state's Supreme Court to overturn the prohibition.

Planning protests
Activists also are aiming boycotts and protests at businesses and individuals who contributed to the campaign to pass Proposition 8. Many of the donors are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which played a significant role in encouraging its members to support the California ban.

Mormon churches in several states have become the focus of protests and some vandalism since the vote.

Connecticut voters could have opened the door to ending gay marriage last week by voting for a constitutional convention to amend the state's constitution, but the measure failed.

Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, a gay-marriage opponent, acknowledged that banning gay weddings in Connecticut will be difficult but vowed not to give up. He condemned the high court's decision as undemocratic.

"Unlike California, we did not have a remedy," Wolfgang said. "It must be overturned with patience, determination and fortitude."

The state's 2005 civil union law will remain on the books for now. Same-sex couples can continue to enter civil unions, which give them the same legal rights and privileges in Connecticut as married couples without the status of being married. Several states, including California, allow domestic partnerships or civil unions for same-sex couples.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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