Awen Briem dropped to one knee and proposed, moments after the Minnesota Senate agreed she should be allowed to.

"Will you marry me? Again?" she asked Kit, her partner of 18 years.

Beaming, Kit Briem held up her left hand to show off her diamond engagement ring.

"This is what it means to feel I am equal," she said, echoing a sentiment shared by gays and lesbians at the Capitol and across the state, some of whom have waited decades for this day.

The Briems, who took the same last name, shared their first commitment ceremony 16 years ago and have an 11-year-old son together. They are planning to marry on the very first day legally possible.

"We're hoping that there will be a public celebration on Aug. 1 so we can do it with our community, because we've stood side by side over these years and we'd love to join them and do this together," Awen Briem said.

What difference will a piece of paper make after so many years together? Beyond the symbolism, it will mean that the next time Awen Briem is called for jury duty, she won't have to swear under oath that she's single.

"I'm not single, but I would have been perjuring myself if I said otherwise," she said. "That's just a great summary of what we run into all the time. This is a matter of dignity. It's a matter of respect, that our family is just like every other family."

Just before the vote, a crowd serenaded senators outside the chamber, singing, "We're going to the chapel and we're going to get married."

Some of them meant it quite literally.

Lucas and Steffan Forsberg wore their wedding suits to the Capitol — the same ones they wore on their wedding day in Germany in 2005. They plan to wear them again once same-sex marriage is legal, not just in Minnesota, but at the federal level.

"We're planning a huge party. We're preparing our house and our yard, as soon as it's federally recognized," Lucas Forsberg said, smiling. Their first marriage ceremony didn't automatically clear the way for Steffan to seek U.S. citizenship, just one more reason the couple is anxious for the rest of the country to follow Minnesota's lead. "We're definitely going to party today, and when the governor signs it," Lucas Forsberg said.

Claire Selkurt and Dianne Legg have been together for 38 years, and married since 2010, after a trip to Iowa. They held a poster with an enlarged copy of their wedding certificate and watched in amazement as Minnesota moved to recognize that marriage.

"We never expected that it ever would be," Legg said. "It was so wonderful to have found each other, and we were together for such a long time."

Selkurt, who has been working for gay rights since the 1970s, said that when she was a teen, every gay youngster thought they were the only one. Now, she said, "it was like the world had changed. An entire building filled with supporters, people like us. It was amazing."

'Someday' becomes now

Laura McCarty and Amanda Tufano are just starting out. The couple, who met four years ago this week, were already planning a June wedding in the rotunda of Minneapolis City Hall, and the Legislature has not disrupted those plans.

"We said someday we'll be back here" to get a marriage license, Tufano said. "We didn't think it would be August 1."

So they'll be signing a certificate of domestic partnership in June, then circling back for a marriage certificate once it's legal. Thinking about that certificate, Tufano said, "This must be what it feels like to become a full citizen."

They became engaged last March, when a constitutional ban on gay marriage was heading for the ballot. Neither thought that barely a year later, they'd be making plans to pick up a Minnesota marriage certificate.

"We just look on this as an opportunity to have another anniversary date," McCarty said. "We wanted to get married, we wanted to have a ceremony in front of all of our friends. We wanted to have the opportunity to say in front of all of our people: We love each other, we're committing to each other for life and we can't get legally married yet, but we will someday. In the meantime, this is us starting our lives together."

A sign bobbing around the crowd at the Capitol claimed that all the country's economic woes could be solved with three little words: Gay Wedding Registry.

"I thought we could have three" weddings, joked Emily Mraz, who has been with her partner, Pam Schuh, for nine years and what they call "illegally married" for almost four. She tallied up the wedding possibilities: "The first illegal one, and then the second one when it's legal in Minnesota and then the third and final one when it's federal."

That, they concede, would be an excessive number of wedding registries, but having their home state recognize their union means everything to them.

"Pam likes to refer to me as her wife, but to me that doesn't feel right. I'm not, until we are" legally recognized, Mraz said. "I don't think people realize how often they drop it in conversation. 'Oh, well my wife or my husband,' and they just sort of drop it into conversation. I'd kill to say that word and have it mean something."