Weddings start a new day for gay marriage in Minnesota

The streets outside Minneapolis City Hall were filled with newly-wedded gay and lesbian couples reveling in their new marital status Thursday morning while inside dozens more waited their turn in lines that lasted until dawn.

Down the street at the Hotel Minneapolis, Cathy ten Broeke and Margaret Miles, the first couple legally wed in Minnesota, partied into the night, wearing the same slinky dresses they wore 12 years earlier at their commitment ceremony. This time, ten Broeke said with some satisfaction, was different because this “was the state of Minnesota committing to us and our family.”

Mayor R.T. Rybak worked through the night and early morning hours, officiating the weddings of 42 gay and lesbian couples on the marble steps of the City Hall Rotunda where, at the bottom, the massive Father of Waters statue was surrounded by folding chairs, wedding guests and dozens of clicking cameras.

By 2 a.m. the scene inside and outside remained festive and untroubled. Food trucks lined up as newlyweds and other attendees ordered tacos and omelets or stepped outside for a break from the steamy City Hall air. Jitneys waited to whisk couples away to nearby hotels. Just as with heterosexual weddings, a white stretch limo, “Just Married” flags flapping, parked outside to escort a wedding party.

From Minneapolis and St. Paul to Duluth and Crookston, dozens of gay and lesbian couples tied the knot in the pre-dawn hours Thursday as Minnesota became the 13th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Couples and guests gathered in city halls, a conservatory, the Mall of America — even a bar — to be among the first to usher in a new era of marriage equality in Minnesota.

Rybak married ten Broeke and Margaret Miles at the beginning of a rapid-fire wedding ceremony unprecedented in City Hall.

“Margaret and Cathy,” the mayor said seconds after midnight, “by the power now finally vested in me, by the laws of the people of Minnesota, we hereby declare Margaret and Cathy legally married. You may now kiss the bride.”

The ceremonies across the state capped a polarizing and expensive political fight that settled the question of law while leaving Minnesotans still divided over same-sex marriage.

But for those forced to keep their love and relationships secret for years, even decades, the moment of legalization signaled a status that once seemed out of reach: Newlyweds.

“Our wedding will be about celebration and commitment, but will also be about sharing our lives to help people better understand how much the same we all are,” said Phil Oxman, who married his partner 38 years shortly after 1 a.m. in Minneapolis City Hall.

The path to marriage equality, after simmering in the state for decades, took an unlikely and circuitous route in Minnesota.

Two years ago, Republican legislative leaders put a measure on the ballot that would have taken an existing ban on same-sex marriage and etched it in the state Constitution, making it virtually impossible to overturn. Thirty other states had already passed a similar same-sex marriage ban and most political watchers saw no reason Minnesota wouldn’t follow suit.

But after an unprecedented campaign that mobilized thousands of volunteers and drew millions of dollars in donations, Minnesota became the first state to reject such a measure, although a statute still banned gay marriage. Soon after, the supporters that engineered the constitutional win harnessed their enormous political machine to persuade lawmakers to move ahead with full-scale legalization.

On May 14, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the legalization bill into law. Leading up to the first weddings, Dayton issued a proclamation declaring Thursday “Freedom to Marry Day” in Minnesota.

State officials expect 5,000 same-sex couples to wed the first year.

After getting a standing ovation at the Minneapolis wedding, Dayton said that “All I did at the end was sign my name on a piece of paper, which is really not that hard once you get the hang of it. The real credit for this transformative event in Minnesota goes to all of you and all the LGBT women and men throughout Minnesota who had the courage to stand up and say, ‘We want the same rights as every other American. It’s our constitutional right, it’s our moral right.”

The new law includes protections to ensure that churches and religious leaders who oppose same-sex marriage can decline to wed gay and lesbian couples.

But opponents say that’s little comfort as they witness what to them is a wrong turn in the state’s history.

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