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Availability of gay marriage licenses varies by county

BEMIDJI — Officials from the Beltrami County License Center are preparing to make changes to their marriage licenses in order to accommodate the state Legislature’s decision to legalize gay marriage.

Debbie Reierson, division director for the Beltrami County License Center, said marriage licenses for gay couples in Beltrami County will not be available until July, due to a records system software update that must take place in order to generate the licenses.

"We’re waiting to see what the software update is and when it will happen, and then we’ll go from there deciding on when we (the county) can make them available," Reierson said.

TriMin Vital Statistics System, an independent records management system used by the county and by 24 other Minnesota counties, will be meeting with county recorders statewide on Tuesday at an annual summer conference to go over the changes,

Reierson said she has dealt with four to five instances of gay couples inquiring when marriage licenses would be available. Beltrami County issued 260 marriage licenses in 2012.

According to Reierson, without the updated record system, marriage license applications cannot be processed and actual licenses cannot be properly dated and printed.

"Once our software provider has adjusted the kind of language and wordage stated in current licenses, we can make them available," Anderson said. She added that phrases like "man and woman" and "bride and groom" are among the changes being addressed.

On Thursday, marriage licenses allowing gay couples to wed were legally made available in three Twin Cities area counties.

A marriage license obtained in any of the state’s counties is valid across the state. While marriage licenses are legally available, official wedlock ceremonies will not become legal until Aug. 1.

The push to make marriage licenses available to gay couples is variable among Bemidji’s surrounding counties.

Sharon Anderson, auditor and treasurer for Cass County, said she received a call from a couple prior to Thursday wondering if they had made the forms available yet.

"Once the news was out in the media, we just wanted to be sure we had everything covered," Anderson said.

While the Cass County administration did not have the document available to the inquiring couple, Anderson has since updated their marriage licenses and made them available Thursday.

"It wasn’t a huge change in the procedure, just different forms," she said. "If anyone wanted to walk in today, we would be ready to accommodate their needs."

Unlike Beltrami County, Anderson said Cass County does not use TriMin Systems to file their records, allowing them to adjust their documents sooner.

"We just do what the Legislature tells us to do, and we are ready to implement the new law," Anderson said.

On the other hand, Pam Heeren, auditor and treasurer for Hubbard County, said she has not had any requests from gay couples about getting a marriage license and that their offices had not set a date for when they would offer updated marriage licenses.

As for Clearwater County, updating marriage licenses will be put off until August.

"We are going to start in August because they (gay couples) can’t legally wed until that time anyway," said Brenda Knable, recorder for Clearwater County. "We only do like 60 licenses a year, so it’s hard to tell how much of a demand we’ll have for these new licenses."

The state Department of Management and Budget estimates 5,000 Minnesota gay couples will get married in the first year under the new law.