MINNEAPOLIS — Dozens of Minnesota gay couples made last-minute preparations Wednesday for midnight marriages, determined to exchange vows at the earliest possible moment under a new state law legalizing same-sex marriage.
Weddings were scheduled to start at the stroke of midnight at Minneapolis City Hall, St. Paul's Como Park, Mall of America's Chapel of Love and at county courthouses around the state. One group planned a cluster of weddings in a Duluth tavern.
"I don't think either of us ever thought we'd see this day," said Mike Bolin, of the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, who was marrying Jay Resch, his partner of six years, at Minneapolis City Hall. "We met at low points in both of our lives, and to have arrived at this point – there's going to be a lot of tears."
Rhode Island was joining Minnesota on Thursday in becoming the 12th and 13th U.S. states to allow gay marriage, along with the District of Columbia. The national gay rights group Freedom to Marry estimates that about 30 percent of the U.S. population now lives in places where gay marriage is legal. The first gay weddings in Rhode Island were planned for later Thursday morning.
In Minnesota, budget officials assessing the impact of the law estimated that about 5,000 gay couples would marry in the first year. Its enactment capped a fast turnabout on the issue in just over two years. After voters rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage last fall, the state Legislature this spring moved to make it legal.
Rhode Island becomes the last New England state to allow same-sex marriage. Lawmakers in the heavily Catholic state passed the marriage law this spring, after more than 16 years of efforts by same-sex marriage supporters. Both Minnesota and Rhode Island will automatically recognize marriages performed in other states.
Bolin and Resch celebrated Wednesday night with several hundred others at Wilde Roast Cafe along the Mississippi River north of downtown Minneapolis. Many at the event planned to walk to City Hall for the mass nuptials.
Dayton proclaimed Aug. 1 to be "Freedom to Marry Day" in Minnesota. The governor was to be on hand at Minneapolis City Hall for the ceremonies starting at midnight, where Mayor R.T. Rybak planned to perform 42 marriages by 6 a.m.
Golden Valley-based General Mills Inc. donated Betty Crocker cakes for the event, which was also to feature performances by local musicians and services donated by wedding photographers, florists and other businesses.
Weddings were not limited to the Twin Cities. In St. Cloud, Stearns County court administrator Tim Roberts planned to marry a couple at 12:01 a.m. at the courthouse. "It feels historic. It's an honor to be a part of it," Roberts said. Midnight weddings were also planned for courthouses in Clay County, Polk County and elsewhere.
At Mall of America, Holli Bartelt and Amy Petrich from the southeastern Minnesota town of Wykoff were set to become the first couple married at the Chapel of Love. Owner Felicia Glass-Wilcox said she hoped to start the ceremony a few minutes early, so the vows could be pronounced seconds after midnight.
"We'd like for them to be able to say they are the very first married in the state, but for sure they'll be able to say they're one of the first," Glass-Wilcox said. She said the chapel had four more gay couples booked for weddings in the next five days.
Bartelt, 33, proposed to Petrich, 37, in April in a photo booth at the Bloomington mall. It was a few weeks before the Legislature approved the law, but Bartelt said she was confident by then that it would pass. She had been in contact with a mall employee about the proposal, who later suggested the couple could be first to get married at the chapel.
Bartelt, a health coach, planned to wear an ivory-colored dress, while Petrich, a baker for Mayo Clinic, was wearing an ivory suit. A group of about 50 family members and close friends were planning to join them, including Bartelt's 10-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
"Everybody deserves the right to be happy," said Bartelt. "That's really what it's all about. It's a big day for us, and a big day for Minnesota, and something I hope my kids look back on some day and say, `Wow, we got to be part of that.'"