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Nikolas Lemos, of San Francisco waves a rainbow flag in front of San Franciaco City Hall while awaiting the Supreme Court's Proposition 8 ruling in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nikolas Lemos wasn't shy about his jubilation.

Dressed this morning in a green gown and Statue of Liberty headpiece, Lemos stood on the steps of San Francisco City Hall waving a rainbow flag as the U.S. Supreme Court announced it had struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

"Greeks can be dramatic," the 42-year-old immigrant from Athens said of his costume.

"If I find the right person, I too can get married -- imagine that, enjoying equality under the law," said Lemos, a UC San Francisco professor and the San Francisco Medical Examiner's forensic director. "I feel vindicated. This was the way it had to go."

Inside City Hall -- where the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004 helped spark the legal battles that led to today's rulings -- a packed crowd of hundreds initially stood silent as the decisions were announced, and then began cheering as the effects became clear. The crowd wore a rainbow of rainbows, from boas to leis to scarves to shirts; at least one pair of brides-to-be embraced as others waved "I do" placards.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who as mayor had ordered the marriage licenses issued in 2004, received a hero's welcome.

He praised San Francisco as a city that "celebrates our diversity each and every day." And he said today's rulings prove that citizens exercising moral authority can change the world. "It's messy, it's complex, there are good days and bad days, but it's worth this journey that we're on," he said.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was more succinct.

"F--- you, Prop. 8," she said, eliciting wild cheers from the City Hall throng.

Jenni Chang, 31, of San Francisco, wore the wedding dress in which she had her non-legal marriage ceremony three weeks ago; her spouse, Lisa Dazols, 34, stood with her, and they embraced and kissed as the rulings were announced.

"We won't be discriminated against anymore," Dazols said, beaming.

"How did we get so lucky to be born at the time we get the same rights as everybody else?" Chang marveled.

Jennifer Grant, 49, of San Francisco, got married in 2008 and has three kids. She said DOMA's downfall potentially clears obstacles for same-sex couples on a range of issues such as immigration, medical care and adoption, noting. "We're going to be able to file (taxes) like every other couple."

Caroline Dessert, 30, of San Francisco, was a regional field director for the campaign against Proposition 8. She recalled the night the measure passed in November 2008.

"That day was one of the saddest of my life -- I had to go in front of thousands of volunteers and tell them ... that their rights to marry had been taken away by a vote from their neighbors," she said.

But, she added, that sadness is now eclipsed by joy: "It's five years late, but we did it."

Natasha Litt, 40, of San Francisco, and her partner arrived at City Hall today with their 9-month-old twins, believing they could get married immediately. City clerk's office workers turned them away, saying it's not yet clear how the rulings will be applied.

They had made a bet between them over whether gay marriage would be legalized before you could buy a marijuana brownie at a convenience store.

"I lost," Litt said. "I was the skeptic."

Ashley Harlan, 28, of Oakland, was in the crowd and had been trembling and anxious until the rulings were announced.

"I'm overwhelmed still," she said afterward. "It'll be a while until I come down. We'd hoped for a 50-state win, but we will take this."

The Supreme Court's ruling on Proposition 8 applies only to California, not to similar constitutional amendments in other states.

Proposition 8's proponents took comfort in the fact that the high court had ruled against them because it found they lacked legal standing to defend the measure in court, not because the measure itself was unconstitutional.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' misguided decision that sought to invalidate Proposition 8," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, the measure's official proponent. "For the more than seven million Californians who have seen their vote stripped away from them, little by little, over the course of five years, that decision is gratifying.

"While it is unfortunate that the court's ruling does not directly resolve questions about the scope of the trial court's order against Prop. 8, we will continue to defend Prop 8. and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that renders Prop 8. unenforceable," Pugno said.

Revelers filled the streets in San Francisco's predominately gay Castro District. Enrique Chavez of Alameda waved his giant American flag on a hot pink pole, eliciting honks from passing cars while yelling, "We got it!"

Asked why he brought the flag as a symbol of this day, Chavez replied, "I get to believe in my country again."

For Leo Gkimisis, who originally is from Greece and has lived in San Francisco for five years, the rulings mean a world of new possibilities for many of his friends: bi-national gay couples who have been forced to live in separate countries because their marriages are not legally recognized in the U.S.

"Many people have to decide whether to move away with their loved one or live here and pay the consequences," said Gkimisis, who has seen at least three couples torn apart by various visa and green card issues when one was forced back to Latin America, Europe and Canada. "Now they have the opportunity to come back if they want to."

"They said we couldn't get married until pigs fly," said 28-year-old Safiya Delaney, wearing a pig hat that flaps its wings when she pulls on a string. "Well, the pigs are flying today."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued a statement saying the Supreme Court "bent the arc of history once again toward justice."

"Soon, the federal government will no longer discriminate against any family legally married in the United States. California will join 12 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing the fundamental rights of all families. Our country will move one step closer to securing equal protection for all of our citizens," she said. "Nearly 44 years to the day after the Stonewall Riots turned the nation's attention to discrimination against LGBT Americans, the fight for equal rights took a giant step forward."

San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said his department is fully staffed for this weekend's Pride celebration, expecting even bigger crowds given today's rulings and on the lookout for any potential clashes with gay-marriage opponents.

"We want to do everything in our power to make sure no one does anything that spoils it for anyone else," Suhr said. "If anything, this is a day you'd want to be on duty in San Francisco."

In San Jose, Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager -- the first openly gay person ever elected to an office in the county -- said he's "thrilled with what happened, but we still have a ways to go."

"I've being doing gay rights in this county a long time, and sometimes it's two steps forward and one step back. You have victories and defeats. It's just not the history of civil rights movements to win all at once," Yeager said, "A sweeping victory would have been that we have a constitutional right to get married. That will wait another day. Until then, gay marriages can resume in California, and that's a big step. But it's not the final step."

Karen Schneider, the head librarian at Holy Names University in Oakland a former U.S. Air Force captain, said she was thrilled with the rulings. "As a taxpayer and a veteran, justice has been served. My country is doing for me what I, as I citizen, have always tried to do for it."

Schneider wedded the Rev. Sandra Hulse, her long-time partner, in 2004 in San Francisco only to see the nuptials voided a few months later. "It was very hard to have our marriage invalidated. It is a very powerful piece of paper, that marriage license," she said.

In Walnut Creek, gay marriage supporters stood atop the Treat Boulevard overpass at Interstate 680 during the morning commute, waving rainbow and American flags as cars and trucks honked their horns in support. Will McGarvey, 45, of Benicia, said he sees this as a religious-freedom issue.

"I know a lot of folks use a religious rationale for withholding gay marriage," said McGarvey, pastor of Pittsburg's Community Presbyterian Church. "We live in a democratic republic with the division of church and state."

McGarvey -- who has 11 gay couples in his congregation and is ready to officiate weddings for three of them, including his sister-in-law -- wished the ruling would have gone even farther. "To be able to see so many folks around the country get federal equality is historic ... but I wish the Supreme Court would go further to ban discrimination in every state."

Mark King, 56, a single gay man from Dublin, took a personal day off from his commercial lending job and drove his motorized cart onto the overpass with a rainbow flag tucked into his basket.

King has married gay friends who must file three separate tax returns: one for California as a married couple and then individual returns federally. Those couples have lost out on married tax benefits, he said.

"It's been a long time coming but it's the best news I've heard all year," he said of today's rulings. "I have so many friends who want to get married and to have so many of the rights that their straight counterparts have. It's a great thing."

Staff writers Mark Emmons, Matthias Gafni and Thomas Peele contributed to this report. Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.