For Phil Oxman, finally calling his partner of four decades his “husband” has been extremely satisfying.
From making introductions at his 50th high school reunion to carrying legal documentation that represents the couple’s commitment, he said life since Aug. 1, 2013 — when Minnesota first recognized same-sex marriages — has been gratifying.
That gratification was ceremoniously recognized Thursday night as a plaque was unveiled to commemorate Minnesota’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
The unveiling was particularly touching for many of the couples who came to Minneapolis City Hall to be married more than a year ago.
“We never thought it would happen in our lifetime,” said Oxman’s husband, Harvey Zuckman.
Then-Mayor R.T. Rybak was the officiant for most of the 67 back-to-back marriages. On Thursday he reflected on that day.
“When this happened, [same-sex marriage] was still very controversial, and while people still raise questions about it, the country has changed dramatically,” he said, adding that “that night sent beautiful energy around the country.”
Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage after polarizing battles at the polls and the Capitol.
The plaque was donated by Project 515, a nonprofit organization that spent years fighting for same-sex marriage. The organization folded once gay and lesbian couples won the right to marry.
“This is the final step for Minnesota, celebrating the work that’s been done,” said Ann Kaner-Roth, former executive director of the organization. In front of about 50 supporters Thursday, local and state leaders celebrated the state’s path to same-sex marriage legalization.
“The biggest reason we are here is because you got married,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said as the audience members’ applause echoed off the rotunda’s walls.
Rybak officiated at the ceremony for Margaret Miles and her partner of 12 years, Cathy ten Broeke, at City Hall in the first of the 67 ceremonies. Miles said she’s honored her wedding was a part of the historic moment, symbolizing a victory for same-sex couples statewide.
Since the wedding, she said her relationship with ten Broeke feels “safer” because she’s no longer fielding questions, from doctors and real estate agents, about their commitment to each other.
“Married couples don’t get those questions,” Miles said.
As of December, about 17 percent of Hennepin County couples who filed for marriage licenses after that night at City Hall have been either gay or lesbian, totaling nearly 2,850 same-sex marriages.
Minnesota voters paved the way for the same-sex marriage discussion to take hold at the Capitol by striking down a constitutional amendment to define marriage as only between one man and woman.
The momentum carried, despite heavy pushback largely in rural Minnesota and from Republican legislators. Marriage equality supporters persuaded the DFL-led Legislature to repeal a state statute prohibiting same-sex marriages. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the proposal on May 14, 2013.
So far, there have been no legislative efforts to repeal the law.
Nationwide, 36 states allow same-sex marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court is positioned to address the issue in coming months.
Miles said her midnight wedding in downtown Minneapolis symbolizes the turning point, not just for the couples who wed, but also for the state as it capped its decades-long fight over marriage equality.
“So many people gave blood, sweat and tears for over 40 years in our community alone,” she said. “[The plaque is] really honoring the history of a movement that we were fortunate enough to be here to benefit from.”
Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.