While dozens of same-sex couples tied the knot Thursday in the Twin Cities area amid pomp and ceremony, the first day of the state’s new marriage law was quiet outstate, with several counties saying no gay couples have applied for licenses.
“We haven’t even had anyone inquire,” said Cheryl Perish, the Todd County recorder in Long Prairie in central Minnesota.
Todd County was among eight of Minnesota’s 87 counties where at least 70 percent of voters supported a constitutional ban of same-sex marriages last fall.
More than 40 couples exchanged vows in midnight ceremonies at Minneapolis City Hall, while 14 couples took advantage of waived fees to wed at St. Paul’s Como and Irvine parks. Ramsey County officials say 168 gay couples had applied for marriage certificates as of last Friday.
The pace was more of a trickle outstate. Cook County, in the Arrowhead region, said three same-sex couples had applied, while Otter Tail County in west-central Minnesota and Pipestone County in the southwest corner of the state each had two couples apply. Pipestone voters were the most supportive of a constitutional ban last year with more than three-quarters of the county’s voters voting “yes.”
Figuring out precisely how many same-sex marriages have been performed is difficult because couples who apply have six months before their paperwork expires and they are not required to specify a wedding date. OutFront Minnesota, a leading gay rights organization, said no one is formally tracking the number of same-sex marriages. State officials expect 5,000 such weddings this first year.
In Duluth, Mayor Don Ness officiated at a sunrise ceremony at the Rose Garden in Leif Erickson Park, proclaiming Tim Robinson and Gary Lundstrom to be legally married.
Robinson quickly pulled out a marriage certificate and asked: “Can we get that in writing?”
Ness said he’s overseen three traditional weddings as mayor, and “honestly, this felt much the same in a positive way.” He described Robinson and Lundstrom, together for 23 years, as pillars of the community.
“Obviously it’s not universal, but there’s broad support for this in Duluth, and this is important progress for Minnesota,” Ness said. “It won’t be long before this is considered an accepted and routine part of the state’s culture.”
Fight ‘not over’
While same-sex couples began exchanging vows Thursday, there were signs that the marriage fight isn’t going away.
Half a dozen members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church arrived in St. Paul Thursday “to picket the moral Neanderthals of the Minnesota Legislature,” as they phrased it. They were met by 100 or so counter-protesters on the Capitol steps, who serenaded them: “If you want to make us happy, just go home.”
After a brief exchange of protest songs and placard waving, the protest disbanded peacefully.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota for Marriage group launched an initiative to target Minnesota House members who “abandoned their constituents” when they voted to legalize gay marriage. The so-called Marriage Majority Initiative will also support lawmakers “who stood up to the pressures of the gay-marriage lobby,” said spokeswoman Autumn Leva.
“Despite this change in our laws, the conversation about marriage is not over,” said John Helmberger, leader of the Minnesota Family Council.
In addition to targeting lawmakers who voted for gay marriage, he said the council is poised to inform pastors, churches and businesses how to avoid legal troubles under the new law.
‘We prayed and hoped’
In sparsely populated Aitkin County, where there is only one stoplight, a half-dozen guests gathered before noon in front of a fireplace in a home in McGregor.
“We prayed and hoped for this day and the reality is still sinking in,” said Robert Marcum, 60, who married his partner of nearly 17 years, Joel Hoppe. Both men wore jeans.
The son of a state game warden, Marcum was born and raised in the wooded resort area. Hoppe works as a chef at the nearby Fisherman’s Bay resort.
While nearly 62 percent of Aitkin County voted to ban gay marriage last fall, voters opposed the constitutional amendment in Salo Township, where Marcum sits on the board, as well as in Beaver Township to the south.
“We’ve been good neighbors and when you know an openly gay couple, it’s easy to support them,” Marcum said. “When you don’t have openly gay neighbors or family members, it’s easy to oppose something you don’t know.”
Marcum, a commercial refrigeration technician, compares the new law to the smoking ban that caused an uproar across the state a few years ago.
“Everyone was complaining the bars were going to go out of business, but guess what?” he said. “People either quit or smoked outside, the bars are crowded and there’s no more whining. People are moving on and will on this issue, too.”
Hoppe, 46, said he was surprised how quickly same-sex marriage went from endangered to endorsed.
“It seemed to be going at a snail’s pace,” he said. “And then, all of a sudden, it was like lightning.”
Marcum and Hoppe own three acres of land, and Marcum said he would be “shattered if I passed away and my spouse had to pay inheritance tax or face a family that might want to inherit ahead of him.”
Julie Krekelberg, a stay-at-home mom from Isle, officiated at their wedding. She’s overseen 40 traditional weddings since receiving her license to marry couples.
“Some of those were engaged for six months and had known each other for only a year, so this one felt really good because they’ve been together for 17 years and you could tell it meant a lot to them,” she said.
“I think it’s about time they can be legalized because they love each other just like everybody else,” she added.
After the wedding and the signing of paperwork, Krekelberg joined the newlyweds and family members for ham sandwiches and a homemade carrot cake prepared by Hoppe, the chef.
“We’re still pinching ourselves,” Marcum said. “We love our partner as much any man loves his wife and we care deeply about each other — and we even had a wedding cake that actually had some flavor.”
Staff writers Jennifer Brooks and Baird Helgeson contributed to this report.