Many gay and lesbian couples in Minnesota are looking forward to Aug. 1, when the law legalizing same-sex marriage goes into effect.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill Tuesday afternoon as more than 6,000 people gathered on the steps of the state Capitol to witness the unusual outdoor ceremony.
Among the crowd were two middle-aged men, standing arm in arm in the shade. Paul Mendez and Ross Algaard met in Minneapolis in 2004. Algaard said even though they got married in Iowa in 2010, "We're excited for Aug. 1 to arrive and finally have it recognized here in our resident state. So we're really excited about everything."
As the time passed, the crowd grew. Rainbow flags and signs supporting marriage equality dotted the tightly packed crowd. Lawmakers began emerging from the Capitol, to the cheers of the crowd. They lined up behind a desk where the bill was to be signed. And then Dayton joined them.
"What a day for Minnesota," he said.
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Dayton reminded the crowd that just last year the state was voting on whether to change the constitution, defining marriage between one man and one woman. He thanked lawmakers for their "political courage." And he said the country's most important progress has been to extend equal rights and protections to all.
"I want to express my utmost admiration to the Republican and Democratic legislators who voted for this bill. Many of them are standing behind me, and they deserve to hear our gratitude," he said. "Last week, I suggested that you legislators read John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage." Instead, you wrote its latest chapter.
"That progress has often been difficult, controversial, and initially divisive," Dayton said. "However, it has always been the next step ahead to fulfilling this country's promise to every American. So it is now my honor to sign into law this next step for the state of Minnesota to fulfill its promise to every Minnesotan."
With that, Dayton sat down and signed the bill.
State Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Scott Dibble — both main sponsors of the bill — also spoke. Clark, 67, was first elected to the Legislature in 1980, a decade after she came out of the closet to her parents. Dibble, 47, graduated from high school in the Minneapolis suburb of Apple Valley and came out in college. Dibble said he and his husband, Richard Leyva, won't remarry in Minnesota — they were married in California — but will have an affirming ceremony. Clark and Jacquelyn Zita, her partner of 24 years, plan to make it official in Minnesota.
The ceremony was emotional for some.
Christopher Bineham says he worked on the campaign to defeat the amendment to ban gay marriage last fall.
"I think today is just wonderful. I think it sends a message to the whole world really that gay and lesbian couples and their families are welcome here," he said. "It sends a message to the children of gay and lesbian families that their families are recognized and important and it sends a message that we really honor love and family and commitment in this state."
As the ceremony ended and the crowd melted away from the Capitol, many headed into downtown St. Paul for a city-organized concert. The Suburbs, POS, and the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus all performed.
St. Paul residents Laura Vanderwegen, her partner Polly Foss, their 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys were at the concert. With tears in her eyes, Vanderwegen said the law gives her confidence.
"I've been a little insecure all my life, just trying to be a little bit better than everybody else, just because I knew if they — or I thought if they knew — I was gay they would think a little bit less of me. So if I out-performed in other areas I'd be OK," she said. "Now, we're just equal."
But not everyone was celebrating last night. Up the hill from the concert, a group of about 150 men, women and children gathered for a candlelit prayer vigil outside the St. Paul Cathedral.
Rosie Rydberg was there with her mother to protest the same-sex marriage law.
"It's a really sad day," she said.
Rydberg, a Catholic who lives in St. Cloud, said she came to the Cathedral to pray. The gathering of Rydberg and others was not organized by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
"It's about praying for our state and praying for the state of marriage. Hopefully through this people will see the importance of one man and one woman as being the true meaning of marriage," she said.
When asked what she thought would happen next, Rydberg answered some good may come out of the law. She said people may take a more thoughtful look at marriage.
Minnesota becomes the 12th U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, and the first in the Midwest to do it by legislative vote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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