The green fields of the National Mall filled on Sunday with a sea of people carrying multicolored flags and signs, such as ``Protect our families'' and ``Equal rights for gays and lesbians.''
Organizers of the Millennium March on Washington sought to build on the new Vermont law, which gave homosexuals legal rights similar to those accorded married couples, and mobilize the crowd into an important voting bloc this presidential election year.
``It's emotionally uplifting. It's incredible,'' said Chris White of Stafford Springs, Conn. ``But what's most important is the legislation in Vermont. I wish that our state and other states could follow suit.''
In a crowd dotted with openly gay celebrities, participants were also encouraged by President Clinton's recent plea to Congress to pass the Hate Crime Prevention Act. Others vowed not to rest until same-sex couples get equal rights in all 50 states.
Some wore costumes or carried signs calling attention to legal fights still on the horizon, such as one man wearing a Boy Scout uniform who carried a sign reading ``Straight Scouts for Gay Scouts.'' The Supreme Court is deliberating a case involing a gay Scout leader.
``If my son was alive, he would be here today,'' said Dennis Shepard. His 21-year-old son Matthew, a gay University of Wyoming student, died in October 1998 after being beaten into a coma and tied to a fence.
``Gay rights is the civil rights issue of this century,'' said Shepard, who added that he met with Clinton on Friday about the hate crimes bill.
Clinton spoke via videotape to what was the first gay rights march on Washington since 1993. His image shown on a giant screen, the president said he had presided over ``the most inclusive administration in history,'' with more than 150 openly gay people appointed to important government posts.
Law enforcement officials said there was no sign of any anti-gay rights demonstrators, and agreed with estimates the crowd numbered about 200,000. March co-chair Donna Red Wing gave a much higher estimate, saying it may have been as large as 1 million.
Other gay and lesbian groups were more critical of the event, saying organizers lacked support from grass-roots groups and minorities.
``This event did not galvanize our community and did not gather the community-building that it attempted to,'' said Bill Hileman, the national co-chair of the 1993 march who watched this year's event on television.
Julian Potter, the White House liaison to the gay and lesbian community, tried to smooth over differences. ``We don't always agree'' on which path to take, but ``what I do know is that every step we take'' leads closer to equal rights for all, Potter said.
Celebrities in the crowd included actress Ellen DeGeneres and her partner, actress Anne Heche, singer Melissa Etheridge, and tennis star Martina Navratilova.