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Hundreds of Cubans paraded through the streets of Havana this weekend in a gay pride march sponsored by the daughter of Cuba’s president, Mariela Castro, a leading advocate for gay and transgender rights in a country where same-sex marriage is still illegal.

This year’s Eighth Annual March against Homophobia and Transphobia included a special blessing ceremony for gay couples. Nearly two dozen couples exchanged symbolic vows as they received blessings from religious leaders, which included visiting clergymen from the United States and Canada.

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Mariela Castro said the idea of the ceremony was inspired by a mass wedding last year of more than 100 couples in Toronto at a World Pride event.

Castro, a member of Cuba’s parliament and daughter of Raul Castro, has personally led a campaign to expand gay rights on the island. In recent years, Cuba has made advances, approving sex-change operations and banning workplace discrimination, but it has not legalized gay marriage or civil unions.

Cuba has a history of government-sanctioned persecution of homosexuals. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has acknowledged publicly that gays and lesbians were persecuted during his rule. During the 1960s and 70s, Cuba regularly sent gay men to labor, or “re-education” camps. In 2010, Castro said he regretted his government’s treatment of gays and called it an “injustice.”

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On Saturday, gay, transgender and lesbian Cubans waved rainbow-colored banners and marched to the rhythm of conga drums and cheered couples who participated in the blessing ceremonies.

Here's a look at the scene on the streets of Havana:

Marchers wave a giant pride banner at the start of a parade marking the upcoming International Day Against Homophobia, in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 10, 2014. International Day Against Homophobia is celebrated globally on May 17 commemorating the World Health Organization's declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
Members of Cuba's LGBT community take part in a gay pride parade in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The parade is part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Rev. Roger LaRade of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada blesses a lesbian couple in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The blessing ceremony for gay couples was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Revellers pose for a picture during a gay parade, on May 9, 2015, in Havana. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Rev. Roger LaRade, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church in Canada, blesses a gay couple as they lean in to kiss each other in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, May 9, 2015. The blessing ceremony for gay couples was part of official ceremonies leading up to the Global Day against Homophobia on May 17. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and director of the National Centre for Sexual Education (CENESEX) Mariela Castro (C), holds a huge rainbow flag during a gay parade, on May 9, 2015, in Havana. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
A couple performs a symbolic marriage during a gay parade, on May 9, 2015, in Havana. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)