Cuba marriage
Gay rights activist and dissident Ignacio Estrada (R) and transsexual Wendy Iriepa hold hands during their wedding in Havana August 13, 2011. Reuters

A gay man and a man-to-woman transgender were wed in Havana, Cuba on Saturday. Tying the knot on former President Fidel Casto's birthday, Ignacio Estrada and Wendy Iriepa became the first gay couple to marry in the country's history.

"This is the first wedding between a transsexual woman and a gay man," Estrada said. "We celebrate it at the top of our voices and affirm that this is a step forward for the gay community in Cuba."

The wedding is a poignant symbol for the communist country's attitude change toward homosexuals. Early in Castro's regime, homosexuality was considered an "alternative" form of expression, and many gay Cubans were sent to labor camps or exiled. Others were fired from their jobs or jailed.

But, thanks largely to Castro's own niece Mariela Castro, Cuba has been offering free sexual reassignment surgery since 2007. Mariela, who is the daughter of President Raul Castro, is one of the country's foremost gay rights activists and heads the National Sexual Education Center. Iriepa was an early beneficiary of the program.

"One of our accomplishments has made it possible for Wendy to get married," Mariela Castro said, according to the Associated Press.

"It seems she found the love of her life and we wish her many congratulations, because all of our work has been for this, the well-being and happiness of our sisters."

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Cuba, but since the couple are different genders, the marriage doesn't break any laws.

Iriepa was paraded to Havana's wedding hall in a vintage pink Ford convertible. Inside, a civil servant wed the two in front of friends and family. Afterwards, the couple put a rainbow flag over their shoulders and marched into the street.