HAVANA — Braving drizzling rain and people's prejudices, a Cuban man and transgender woman tied the knot here in what has been described as the first "gay marriage" on the Communist-ruled island.

Ignacio Estrada and Wendy Iriepa were married in a civil ceremony in Havana's Palace of Weddings on the same day as Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who a year ago accepted his responsibility for cracking down against homosexuals, celebrated his 85th birthday.

According to tradition, guests -- among them some well-known Cuban dissidents -- threw rice at the decked-out couple, wishing them prosperity and many years of happy life together.

"This is the happiest day of my life," Wendy, 37, told reporters, sitting on one of the old pre-revolutionary American convertibles so common on the streets of the Cuban capital.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Cuba, which in the past has showed little tolerance for homosexuality and operated camps for several years to stamp out "counterrevolutionary" values.

But attitudes have changed, in part following efforts by Mariela Castro, a sex therapist and daughter of President Raul Castro.

And technically, Saturday's nuptials were not a gay union, as Wendy, a man named Alexis before his sex change operation, is now officially recognized in the country as a woman.

The operation was performed four years ago by the Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) headed by Mariela Castro.

But Iriepa said Mariela refused to be a witness at the ceremony after she had learned that Estrada was a dissident.

Estrada, 31, said the couple's wedding "marks a new step in Cuba." "This is not a provocation. It's an acknowledgment," he told AFP.

Since 1988, 16 sex change operations have been legally performed in Cuba. Mariela Castro's Cenesex is lobbying for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the island nation.