Minnesota gay and lesbian couples in wedding countdown

Thursday marks the first day Minnesota’s same-sex couples can legally wed.

In Minneapolis, two men who fell in love 38 years ago will finally get married this week in front of their rabbi at City Hall. In Duluth, two men with three children will wed in an early morning ceremony on the shore of Lake Superior. Two North Dakota women who fled their home state last year and resettled in Minnesota are busy planning their nuptials this fall.

Minnesota is on the verge of a remarkable new chapter in its history Thursday, as it becomes only the 13th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

In courthouses and city halls around the state, wedding preparations are underway as the first gays and lesbians prepare for their new and uncharted lives as legally married couples.

“There are so many layers of pain we were having to push through and all of the sudden here we are,” said Phil Oxman, a Minneapolis psychologist who will marry his partner of nearly 40 years at Minneapolis City Hall sometime after midnight on Thursday. “Suddenly, we are all fully functioning members of this state.”

“It’s just a wonderful celebration, and we want to be part of it,” said his partner, Harvey Zuckman.

Just a few years ago, most gays and lesbians did not dare to imagine that marriage might soon be a reality in Minnesota. Last year, many were fighting just to stop having same-sex weddings banned in the state Constitution.

Now many are scrambling to find new ways to make ancient wedding ceremony traditions their own.

But as they prepare for their happy day, gay and lesbian couples face an unsettling reality: Their marriages — and the myriad legal rights and protections that come with them — will be meaningless in 37 other states.

Even at home, acceptance falls well short of universal. Minnesotans remain deeply and often bitterly divided over an issue that, for many, crosses religious and moral boundaries.

Tia Johnson, 30, a mother of three from Clara City, represents those views. “We simply cannot deny that men and women were born to be biologically distinct, and their roles are so very precious as moms and dads,” Johnson said. “I’m also concerned about marriage continuing to be redefined in Minnesota’s future. … I’m concerned about expressing these viewpoints without being verbally thrashed or legally silenced.”

‘A seat at the banquet’

Scars from the long marriage equality battle on the ballot and at the State Capitol, along with the uncertain marital landscape nationally, have gay and lesbian couples heading down the aisle amid a complex swirl of emotions.

Duluthians Tim Robinson and his partner, Gary Lundstrom, will wed at 7 a.m. Thursday, in the Duluth Rose Garden overlooking Lake Superior.

“All these years, we have been used to two words: tolerance and acceptance,” said Lundstrom, 55, an artist. “We are told to be grateful. But that’s like only accepting crumbs off the table. Now we have a seat at the banquet.”

Robinson, 50, a social worker, said they have never been crusaders. Both grew up in deeply religious Christian families, with some members who still won’t embrace their relationship.

“We just tried to live our lives. We haven’t forced things on our family that might make them uncomfortable,” Robinson said.“But the only way people are going to see same-sex couples is by seeing same-sex couples. It’s not radical. It’s just something everybody else has taken for granted.”

Midnight party in Duluth

Duluth has had its own struggles with the marriage issue.

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  • "Everything just right": Harvey Zuckman and Phil Oxman tried to pick out ties last week.

  • Sweet victory: Amy Theis, right, her partner, Nichol DePoint, and their 1-year-old daughter, Hattie, shopped for cupcakes at the Salty Tart Bakery for their Aug. 8 wedding. “It’s still sinking in. We can get married,” Theis said.

  • ‘Acceptance’: Gary Lundstrom, left, and Tim Robinson, with son, Sam, 5, will marry in the Duluth Rose Garden Thursday morning.

  • ‘here we are’: Phil Oxman, left, and Harvey Zuckman worked with Pilates instructor Tresa Sauer during a private class at the Uptown YWCA in Minneapolis. Oxman and Zuckman will be among the dozens of couples marrying at City Hall sometime after midnight on Thursday.

  • KEY MOMENTS

    See a full digital timeline at startribune.com/gayweddings

    1970: Minneapolis couple Jack Baker and Michael Mc- Connell apply for a marriage license, are rejected by Hennepin County District Court and go on to file what is believed to be the first U.S. lawsuit on same-sex marriage.

    1971: Minnesota Supreme Court rules against Baker, declaring in its opinion that “[t]he institution of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation or rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis.”

    1996: Congress adopts the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibiting federal benefits to same-sex couples.

    1997: Minnesota adopts a state Defense of Marriage Act, explicitly barring “a marriage between persons of the same sex.”

    1998: Alaska becomes the first state to put a gay-marriage ban in its Constitution. Two dozen states will follow suit in coming years.

    2003: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that bans on same-sex marriage violate the state’s Constitution.

    2011: The Minnesota Legislature puts a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that would define marriage as only the union of a man and woman.

    November 2012: Minnesota voters defeat the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

    May 9, 2013: On a 75-59 vote, a DFL-controlled Minnesota House votes to repeal the state DOMA law and legalize same-sex marriage. Two days later, the DFL-led Senate votes 37-30 to do the same.

    May 14: DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, in an outdoor ceremony, signs the measure making Minnesota the 13th state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

    June 26: The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, similar to the one Minnesota voters rejected.

    Aug. 1: Gay and lesbian couples can legally wed in Minnesota.

    Sources: Star Tribune archives; National Conference of State Legislatures; Washington Post; Associated Press; Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

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