'Proud' Minn. gays and lesbians wonder: What's after marriage vote?

Same-sex marriage supporters
Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate outside the House chamber Thursday, May 9, 2013 in St. Paul after representatives voted 75-59 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Same-sex couples who've been together for years will soon have the option of getting married if the Minnesota Senate, as expected, passes legislation Monday legalizing same-sex marriage and recognizing out-of-state marriages.

Many Minnesota couples are trying to understand how their lives will change. One of those couples is Lisa Vecoli and Marjean Hoeft. Vecoli said it takes her breath away when she thinks about how her life may change fundamentally in a way she never expected within the space of one day.

"In some sense, all is forgiven at this point," Vecoli said. "I'm so proud of us for being the first state in the Midwest to do this by legislative action and not by court action."

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Vecoli is a curator of the University of Minnesota's GLBT archives. She met Hoeft when Vecoli was in college 27 years ago. Last year, while they were working together on the campaign to defeat the marriage amendment, Vecoli proposed. She fretted over details like whether to buy a ring and whether to get down on one knee.

"I was surprised after all this time at how nervous I was," Vecoli said.

They're planning to get married on Aug. 1 — the first day same-sex marriages would be allowed in Minnesota.

"We are very conscious of the fact that if we are going to do this — and if we are going to be able to include parents, we have a little window in which to do that," Vecoli said.

Vecoli and her partner's parents are in their 90s.

Her marriage will probably be one of many. The last census counted 10,207 same-sex couples in Minnesota. The Minnesota Management and Budget office predicts that half of them will marry within a year of the bill being passed.

And when they marry, many challenges same-sex couples are used to regularly facing may disappear — like separate tax returns and insurance policies. Dawn Gelle said those challenges mean same-sex couples have had to work hard to be together, and they've gotten used to it. She and her partner have been together for 21 years.

"It's been a long time of doing this," Gelle said. "In terms of navigating the legalities — it's just been part of what we've done. Hasn't always been easy. It's been a big education."

Gelle said she and her partner pay thousands of dollars extra because they haven't been considered married. She said she'll have a lot of questions once the governor signs the bill.

"Can we go back to our insurance and say, you know what, we should have insurance coverage just like any other couple and we should pay the premium for one policy instead of two?" Gelle said.

Then there's employment benefits.

Jodi Graham said her partner — a Minneapolis cop — worries that if something happens to her, Graham won't be taken care of financially. As they consider what it means to be married in Minnesota, she said that's what comes to their minds first.

"We kind of joke about how unromantic it is a little bit because we're focused so much on more of the legal aspect of it," Graham said. "It's definitely going to be a big weight off our shoulders. I just always think, chances are nothing's going to happen to you, but you never know."

Graham has lived her adult life without the possibility getting married in Minnesota, so it's hard for her to believe that may change Monday.

"We've been very optimistic. We were more worried about the House vote," Graham said. "I feel like now, if for some reason something would happen in the Senate and it wouldn't happen, it would be devastating."

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he'll sign the bill as soon it reaches his desk. But even if Minnesota legalizes same-sex marriage, Shannon Brumbaugh said same-sex couples won't really have equal rights until they can go anywhere in the country and be recognized as married. Brumbaugh and her partner of 22 years have a 21-year-old son.

"I will celebrate, I will be in tears, I think it's absolutely wonderful and exciting, but I still think the solution ultimately has to be for the whole nation to come together on this," Brumbaugh said.

Brumbaugh said Minnesota's bill is a huge step in the right direction — toward federal legalization of same-sex marriage.