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Hundreds of same-sex couples seeking to wed were turned away from the city marriage bureau Thursday, part of a nationwide protest aimed at recent decisions restricting the right to marry to a man and a woman.

Wearing signs that said “Just Not Married,” the activists were part of a wave of demonstrations expected throughout the day at marriage bureaus or county clerks’ offices from New York City to California, in communities large and small.

Matt Flanders, 37, of Brooklyn, participated with his 29-year-old partner, Will Jennings. Both wore gold engagement rings.

When he was denied a marriage license, Flanders said he told officials: “‘I should be able to marry the person I love.’ And they said, `We can only offer you a domestic partnership.'”

Micah Stanek, 23, stood outside in a floor-length wedding veil after he and his partner were rejected. He said he moved to New York from San Francisco after gay marriage was outlawed in California on the November ballot.

“New York is especially important because the rest of the country follows what happens here,” he said.

Outside the bureau, protesters sang “Love and Marriage” and chanted, “What do we want? Marriage! When do we want it? Now!” One man held a sign that read: “Love your husband? Let me love mine!”

The protests, part of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week, were considered more important than ever this year because they come in the wake of California’s Proposition 8 vote that overturned gay marriage and just as New Yorkers look to their state Senate to pass legislation that could lead to legalized gay marriage.

Some of the largest gatherings were expected in California, where the state’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 5 over whether to restore California same-sex marriages. The court could render a decision as early as June.

In New York, same-sex marriages cannot legally be performed. However, Gov. David Paterson has issued a directive requiring that all state agencies recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith has suggested that he and his fellow Democrats lack the votes needed to pass a same-sex marriage bill this year. However, Smith said several days ago that he and fellow legislators are “committed to pursuing its passage.”

The line at the New York City’s marriage bureau also included straight engaged couples.

“They didn’t bother us on our big day and they have a right to protest,” said King Lau, 30, as his bride-to-be, Cheryl Zhang, 25, nodded in agreement.

Freedom to Marry events around the country are listed on Web sites, including those run by two major organizations behind the protests _ Join the Impact and the national grass-roots organization Marriage Equality USA.

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