More than 200 gay and lesbian couples gathered at the Galleria downtown Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday to engage in what they called the “biggest illegal mass wedding ever held.”

The afternoon ceremony was preceded by over an hour of speeches by activists on the steps of Cleveland City Hall, where a gay pride flag flew alongside the American flag.

Ed Mullen, executive director of Equality Ohio, said Saturday’s mass marriage may be the biggest of its kind ever held.

Mullen added that the rally and similar public events – such as the 2014 Gay Games in Northeast Ohio – could change attitudes about the gay community in the state.

The brides and grooms were joined by hundreds of friends and relatives as eight priests and ministers recited marriage vows to the couples, who were of all ages.

One speaker, Judy Benson of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, said the move for marital rights is not just cosmetic or symbolic.

Though the ceremony carried no legal weight, the participants hope it will provide some of the paperwork needed for obtaining a marriage license, if gay marriage is ever recognised in Ohio.

Same-sex marriage is legal in the states of New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill, but it was vetoed by the governor.