MINNEAPOLIS - A couple for 11 years already, Jeff Isaacson and Al Giraud of Minneapolis were first in line Thursday morning to get a Hennepin County marriage license under Minnesota's new law allowing gay couples to wed.

"We are already married in our own minds, and the minds of our families," said Isaacson, 48, a bank analyst. "But that state recognition is going to be huge. We don't have to worry about extra legal hoops to go through to take care of each other, or even something so mundane as filing taxes together. It's a huge step."

About a half dozen gay couples passed through the basement service center of the Hennepin County Government Center in the hour after it opened at 7:30 a.m. In all, three large Minnesota counties became the first on Thursday to start issuing the new licenses. The weddings can start taking place beginning Aug. 1.

Isaacson and Giraud, a 41-year old corporate trainer, said they hoped to get married right after midnight on the day it becomes legal. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has said he would start performing weddings at that moment. The two men said they would hold a small reception for friends and families later in the fall.

Isaacson and Giraud said it went without saying that they'd get married when the Minnesota Legislature legalized gay marriage last month. Still, they admitted it's been an adjustment as they navigate an institution long denied to them.

"We just changed our Facebook status to `engaged.' It had been `in a relationship,'" Giraud said. Isaacson added: "We're used to referring to each other as our `partner' so we're going to have to get used to `husband.'"

New marriage licenses were available Thursday morning at service centers in Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties, all in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Officials in other counties have said their new licenses might not be ready until later in July. A recent analysis by the state Department of Management and Budget estimated that 5,000 Minnesota gay couples would get married under the first year of the new law.