The wait ended Thursday for many same-sex couples eager to sign the legal papers necessary to get married later this summer in Minnesota.
Two couples were in line at the downtown Hennepin County Government Center at 7:30 a.m. when the service windows opened on history: Couples of the same gender could pay $115 and walk out with a license to marry Aug. 1.
“We didn’t want to wait a second more,” said Al Giraud, 41, who was first in line with his partner of 11 years, Jeff Isaacson, 48.
Behind them stood Martha Whiteaker, 50, and Gentry Holloway, 46, who have been together for 15 years, with their sons Jack and Joshua. “We want to get it done as soon as we can,” Whiteaker said.
Heading into the historic day, no one was sure how many couples would arrive. Hennepin County was ready with extra security staff members and a queue for a crowd. But couples trickled in slowly in Minneapolis, at Ridgedale in Minnetonka and at a Ramsey County office in St. Paul, as well as a Washington County office in Stillwater. By 6 p.m., Hennepin County had received 45 marriage license applications from same-sex couples. By late afternoon, Ramsey County had received 14 and Washington County two.
‘Better to be overprepared’
It wasn’t quite the surge Hennepin County had prepared for, but it was “better to be overprepared than underprepared,” said Mark Chapin, the county’s head of taxpayer services.
“Do we get the marriage license right now?” Holloway asked the clerk. The smiling clerk said yes, “but you can’t get married until August 1st.”
That’s the day same-sex couples can legally marry in Minnesota. St. Paul and Minneapolis already are offering public parks for ceremonies and mayors as officiants.
Jack Holloway said he’s “nervous and excited” about what it will be like for his parents, who celebrated a commitment ceremony on Lake Superior’s North Shore a few years ago, to legally marry. “I think everything will probably be the same,” Jack said. “We kind of do everything as a family anyway.”
Gentry Holloway, however, said the legal document will “legitimize” the relationship.
Giraud and Isaacson, who also have had a commitment ceremony, hope to marry early Aug. 1 at Minneapolis City Hall. “Opposite-sex couples have 500 rights,” Giraud said. “Once we’re married, we’ll have the same rights.”
Throughout the morning, couples arrived slowly but steadily, including Harvey Zuckman, 62, and Phil Oxman, 66, who have been together 38 years. “We never, ever imagined we’d see this in our lifetimes,” Zuckman said.
The couple have two ceremonies planned: a legal one Aug. 1 and one at a synagogue in May 2014 with a ceremony and big celebration for family and friends. They’ve booked the rabbi, reception hall and band.
“I think our relationship will change,” Oxman said. He choked up as he added, “First of all, I can call him my husband. It’s happy.”
John Rittman, 71, and Thomas Trisco, 68, have been together 40 years and were part of a lawsuit filed in 2010 to legalize gay marriage. They applied for — and were denied — a license then, but not Thursday. “To me, it’s an official recognition of a lifetime commitment,” Trisco said, adding somberly that the adjustment was difficult after years of being private and cautious. “It’s hard to wrap my head around it.”
In Ramsey County, ‘magic’
Ann DeGroot, who advocated for GLBT communities as executive director of OutFront Minnesota, joined partner Rhonda Lundquist as the first couple to apply for a license in Ramsey County.
DeGroot and Lundquist arrived just before 8 a.m. with their son, Andy Lundquist, 13, and were surprised to find no one waiting. It was pure luck, said DeGroot, who took time to reflect on an era when people were “very closeted” about their sexual orientation.
About a half-hour later, Doreen Pippenger and Dawn Metcalf, of St. Paul, together for seven years, filled out an application form. For Pippenger, that meant she was coming out to co-workers as being in a same-sex relationship, she said. Metcalf said the couple attended the St. Paul party that followed Gov. Mark Dayton’s signing of the gay marriage bill “and wanted to be a part of history being made” Thursday.
At midnight Aug. 1, Ramsey County plans to have marriage licenses available for pickup at a booth at the Como Park Conservatory, a popular wedding site about five blocks from the Falcon Heights home of DeGroot and Lundquist. They may wed Aug. 1, DeGroot said, but have to yet to finalize plans, including who will be in the ceremony.
“There’s a lot of competition for flower girl,” Lundquist said.
After the service, Lundquist will qualify for health insurance through the marriage with DeGroot, who now serves as executive director of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board. The move will save Lundquist about $6,000 annually on the premiums she pays now.
“Doesn’t that seem like magic?” she said.