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David Cummings and Sam Friedman Cowan drove to Boston from New Hampshire Saturday to celebrate, cuddle, and kiss in public — and they did it in style at this year’s Pride Parade.

The Granite State’s motto might be “live free or die,’’ but the couple said they have never felt open enough there to express their love for each other.

“I’ll kiss him here in public, but not in New Hampshire,’’ said Friedman Cowan, of Manchester, wearing colorful beads around his neck and snuggling with his boyfriend, who is from Bedford.

The two 18-year-old men were among the thousands who lined a three-mile parade route that began in Back Bay around noon with a moment of silence and ended a short while later in City Hall Plaza. Revelers, some wearing rainbow dresses, thigh-high socks, and hats, whooped and cheered as streams of marchers passed by.


Under sunny skies Saturday afternoon, the mood was as celebratory as it was political, with many onlookers declaring their support for every person’s right to marry and the differences among individuals.

But some who marched in Boston’s 42d Pride Parade shouted their rage over what they call the slow pace of progress on equality across the United States, vowing to continue to press the government for action and to take their fight to the streets.

One sign read: “Would you want me to marry your daughter?’

Ethan Harrison, who said he coined the provocative question to highlight the hypocrisy he sees among many who oppose same-sex marriage, described himself as part of the “new radical queer.” He was marching with a group called Join The Impact Massachusetts.

“I am confident in my sexual orientation without having to experiment with another gender,’’ he said.

Key issues in the gay community have made strides recently, including the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy and President Obama’s public support of gay marriage. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on May 31 that the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. That case appears headed to the Supreme Court.


But marriage equality remains a lightning rod issue across the country. This week, opponents blocked Washington state’s gay marriage law from taking effect. The law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Chris Gregoire this year, would have made Washington the seventh state to have legal same-sex marriages.

Some national groups promised time and money to fight the law, including the Washington -based National Organization for Marriage, which was involved in ballot measures that overturned same-sex marriage in California and Maine.

On Clarendon Street yesterday, spectators say that in such a climate, support for equal rights is all the more critical.

“There’s a lot of polarization toward the gay community from people who are afraid of giving equality and [from people] who are afraid of what it means for them,” said Susan Altman of Medford, who joined Boston’s fete with her spouse, Becky Hemperly.

Jennifer Stephens, a 57-year-old teacher from Concord, said the annual parade is a symbolic display — particularly for young people — that shows gay, lesbian, and transgendered people are proud of who they are.

“A lot of people in the transgendered community want to disappear in society, and because of that no one wants to talk about it,” said Stephens, who was born male. “I’m the opposite. I speak out.”


For the most part Saturday, there was plenty to celebrate, including hard-bodied men wearing short shorts and glitter covering their bodies. One reveler was dressed like a peacock; another wore a giant wig streaked with yellow, green, and blue.

The festivities featured more than 15,000 marchers and 20 floats, event organizers said.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino sat perched on a beige convertible as it drove slowly down the route. Governor Deval Patrick and his wife, Dianne, followed close behind on foot. Democratic Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren also walked the parade route.

Along the route, supporters collected stickers that they pasted on their clothing and yelled out: “Happy Pride.”

On Berkeley Street, Bucky Chappell and Ian Flynn danced to Train’s hit, “Hey Soul Sister.’’

Michael Murphy, a 46-year-old from South Boston, was a vision of color in an orange, pink, and peach billowing shirt and peach linen pants that he accessorized with spiked bracelets and an elaborate brass neckpiece.

“It reflects all the internal colors inside me that I’ve been wanting to cut loose,’’ he said.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.