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Big, small gatherings usher in gay marriage in Minnesota

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota same-sex couples wed both in large groups and intimate settings early today as state law specifically allows gay marriages for the first time.

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“I am proud that Minnesota ... is in the forefront,” Gov. Mark Dayton said before Minnesota joined Rhode Island today in becoming the 12th and 13th states where gays can legally wed.

Celebrations included mass weddings in cities like Minneapolis, Duluth and Moorhead, but quiet ceremonies were held in homes, courthouses and other locales throughout Minnesota.

Mayor R.T. Rybak officiated at the largest event with 42 couples getting married in Minneapolis City Hall. In St. Louis County, 34 couples planned weddings soon after the law took effect at midnight. Judges in Moorhead performed 18 weddings early today.

Judges and clergy stayed up late elsewhere to perform smaller weddings, with more to follow throughout the day and throughout the state.

In Moorhead, Justin Metz said the realization that he would be legally marrying his partner, Richie DePaolis, finally hit him Tuesday night.

“I was all of a sudden like, it’s really happening now,” said Metz, a teacher with Fargo Public Schools.  

The West Fargo, N.D., couple were among those who tied the knot just after midnight at the Clay County Courthouse. They will close on a home in Moorhead later this month.

Metz said they want to move to Minnesota, where their new marriage will be recognized in addition to other protections the state now affords same-sex couples.

“If North Dakota has spent its legislative session working to restrict our rights, and Minnesota spent its legislative session working to expand them, our taxes would be better spent in the state of Minnesota,” Metz said.

The couple initially planned to get married in another state, return to North Dakota and have a ceremony with family and friends. But marriage became a reality in Minnesota quicker than they thought.

“It was kind of a really neat way of the world putting us where we needed to be,” Metz said.

A University of California Los Angeles study indicates half of Minnesota’s 10,000 gay couples plan to marry within three years, but no one has an accurate count of how many are getting hitched on the first day it is legal.

Gays live around the state, with the highest densities in the Twin Cities and northeastern Minnesota.

Most of the couples married today live in Minnesota, but others, like Metz and DePaolis, came from states where there is no indication gay marriages will be legal any time soon.

The first weddings in Duluth took place at Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery, the current incarnation of the Old City Hall downtown. Five same-sex couples were married there just after midnight.

There have likely been marriage ceremonies at the historic stone building before -- but not for nearly a century and certainly not like this.

Tears filled eyes in the room at the realization that history was being made. More than 100 people came to witness. Many were from Duluth United For All Families, the group that led a two-year battle to legalize same-sex marriage.

Keith Haugen greeted friends and family before the ceremony while sitting at the bar with his partner of 27 years, Mike Goerdt.

“Why wait?” Haugen said of why they chose to get married at 12:01. “We’ve been waiting all these years and can finally do it. It’s still hard to believe.”

The idea for the event at Tycoons came from John Goldfine, who wanted a place for couples to gather and get married for little cost and to celebrate the new law the second it came into effect. Many of the services provided Wednesday night and early today were donated.

Athena Jordon and Susie Mattson came down from Hibbing to take part in the Tycoons ceremony. They’ve been on the Iron Range for just a few years and were having trouble finding someone to perform a ceremony. When they heard of the Tycoons event, their problem was solved.

Their preparations Wednesday were simple.

“We were vacuuming, taking care of the pets,” Mattson said. “Just getting ready to be out of town.”

Both said it was, of course, bigger than that. They wanted to be part of history. They’ll have a bigger reception in September.

“It’s a big day for us but also an important day for Minnesota,” Mattson said.

While some counties reported a spike in marriage licenses in recent days, in anticipation of today’s rush, in other places, things were calm.

“It’s business as usual for us,” Washington County official Jennifer Wagenius said.

Debra Mueske, court administrator for Kandiyohi, Meeker and Swift counties who performs civil marriage ceremonies, said she received no requests for same-sex weddings.

Politicians and those gathering to dissect the news over coffee have discussed gay marriage for decades, even before the 1971 wedding of two Minneapolis men. The two, both 70 now, consider themselves married even though a judge ruled in a case about their marriage that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

In recent years, the fight has intensified, with most Republicans arguing that a man-woman marriage is the only proper kind, but Democrats saying any couple in love should have the same rights.

The issue may remain a discussion topic over coffee, but more and more Republicans are saying the fight is over. An example is governor candidate Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove telling reporters that the people have decided the issue and it will not play a part in his campaign.

“It seems very clear that there is momentum behind the movement to extend marriage to same sex couples,” said Javen Swanson, faith organizer for OutFront Minnesota, the state’s biggest pro-gay organization.

Swanson said he does not see a path for gay marriage opponents to change things back to the way they were.

Some gay couples have waited for decades, Swanson said, and decided “they are not going to wait one more day” even though Thursday is not a traditional wedding day.

Dayton said the new law does not require churches and clergy to take part in any wedding, although judges have been advised that if they officiate at straight couples’ weddings that they also should handle gay marriages.

“What is significant about this legislation is it is clear that churches have their own prerogatives, rightfully, whether they are going to marry gay people or not,” the governor said. “No one is touching your religious beliefs, your religious convictions.”

But the state must treat all couples the same, Dayton added.

The Dayton administration issued a bulletin to insurance companies explaining that insurers cannot limit coverage only to straight couples. If policies do that, they were forced to change today.

The governor proclaimed today Freedom to Marry Day.

“Throughout its history, some of our country’s most important progress has been to extend equal rights and protections to everyone,” Dayton wrote in the proclamation. “And while that progress has often been difficult and initially divisive, it has always been the next step forward to fulfilling our country’s promise to every American.”

Reporters Scott Wente, Carolyn Lange, Cali Owings and Mike Creger contributed to this story.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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