Same-sex couples will be able to marry legally in Minnesota starting at midnight tonight.
For some, it's the culmination of years of waiting or fighting for marriage equality. For others, it's a milestone they thought would never arrive.
Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage following a momentous two-year political battle. But tonight the spotlight will be on the couples.
CEREMONIES TONIGHT ACROSS THE STATE
The city of Minneapolis is hosting an extravaganza at City Hall tonight where Mayor R.T. Rybak will officiate at the marriage of 42 same-sex couples. The celebration, which will stretch well into Thursday morning, includes performances by local musicians, a brass quintet and a reception at the nearby Hotel Minneapolis.
Rybak staffer Andy Holmaas, who helped organize the Minneapolis event, said everyone from photographers to General Mills, which provided the cakes, have pitched in for free to help make the event successful.
"People have been bending over backwards at the slightest ask -- an unbelievable outpouring," Holmaas said. "It's not surprising, but it's still really inspiring to see Minneapolis and the whole region just jump on board to do everything they can."
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The first couple to be married in Minneapolis will be Margaret Miles and Cathy ten Broeke, who have a 5-year-old son. The couple held a large wedding ceremony for family and friends 12 years ago, but ten Broeke said tonight will be special because it's a shared event.
"What's different about this is not only the fact that we'll be legally wed, but that we are sharing in this moment with hundreds and hundreds of other couples throughout the state, and just marking this moment of justice and equality for so many of us," she said.
St. Paul will host its first midnight wedding at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.
Other celebrations are planned across the state. Courthouses in Polk and Clay counties will offer midnight ceremonies. There will even be a wedding at 12:01 a.m. at the Mall of America's Chapel of Love.
THE BENEFITS OF LEGAL MARRIAGE
The overnight celebrations will give way to Thursday's daylight weddings. Amy Britain and Sara Hocker of Rochester are planning to marry Thursday in Stewartville.
Although the women held what they call their "spiritual wedding" in Wisconsin last year, they felt it was important to make it legal as soon as possible because, growing up in Kansas and Missouri, they never expected to have the right to marry legally.
"We had our spiritual wedding a year ago almost, and it felt very real to us, we thought," Hocker said. "Imagine starting to call each other, 'My wife' -- it's just different."
Even simple actions like checking the married box on a form instead of the single box can feel significant to the couple. And they would like to have a child together. Both of them can be their child's legal guardian once they're married.
"The benefits, of course, are nice and I think are fair. But it's probably more in intangible ways that it will change," Hocker said. "I think we'll have the perception, at least on some intangible level, that people take our relationship more seriously."
The couple even considered the traditional step of taking one last name.
"We are going to keep the same names primarily for pragmatic purposes, although we really debated it in the interests of romance," Hocker said. "If we're lucky enough to have a child in some way or another, we probably will reconsider."
MINNESOTA DEBATES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
The opportunity for same sex couples to marry legally caps a swift and stunning shift in Minnesota's political and civic life. The state has long banned same-sex marriage.
Britain remembers the scene in 2011 at the state Capitol when protesters shouted as lawmakers voted to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot defining marriage as a union of one woman and one man.
"They stood there chanting, and I cry when I say this, 'We've just begun to fight,'" Britain said.
After a divisive campaign that spurred many, including Britain, to activism, Minnesota voters rejected the measure in November 2012 and gave the DFL control of both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor's office. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved legalizing same-sex marriage, and Gov. Mark Dayton signed the measure into law on May 14.
"The next day I just felt like things are a little brighter, the tulips are a little redder, and I felt like people's acceptance of me was a little bit stronger," Britain said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage said they won't give up their beliefs just because a law was passed.
"In every single one of the other states that have passed same-sex marriage, the conflicts between religious liberties and redefinition of marriage grow even more deep," said Autumn Leva, Minnesota for Marriage spokeswoman. "We're going to see that same sort of thing here in Minnesota."
Britain, who fought housing discrimination against gay and lesbian people in Kansas City three decades ago, said she knows some people still won't approve of her relationship, even after she and Hocker are married in the eyes of the law.
"We'll just continue to help people along because people's hearts do change and in Minnesota we appealed to people's hearts," Britain said. "They realized we all want to get married for the same reasons and it shouldn't be any different."
Despite lingering political differences, the state could be due for a marriage boom as other same-sex couples solidify wedding plans in the coming months.
Pastor Linda Crowe of the Brainerd First Congregational United Church of Christ said she already has nine same-sex weddings scheduled between now and April.