Together for eight years, Kay Davis and Sandy Wimer never expected to see the day Minnesota would let them marry.
But after decades of political battles and a dramatic two-year swing in state politics, they stood at Minneapolis City Hall in the wee hours of Thursday morning with the law on their side.
"A lot of people came before us. A lot of people really suffered with not being accepted," said Davis of Eagle Lake. "Pioneers that had been together 30, 40 years and never were married legally in everybody's eyes -- so this is kind of a salute to them that it's legal."
Thursday's first-ever same-sex weddings capped an extraordinary seven months in Minnesota that began in November when Minnesotans rejected a plan to write the state's 40-year gay marriage ban into the Minnesota constitution. That vote's political momentum helped remake the Legislature, which in May changed the law, making Minnesota the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
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Opponents have vowed to bring back the ban. The couples who married Thursday morning at City Hall, and the families and friends who celebrated with them, were focused on their new future, one where they have the same legal standing as other couples.
"For me, I just feel a certain amount of anxiety is gone," said Laura Migliorino, who married Mary Bahneman in the City Council chambers. "We probably weren't even aware of how much anxiety we lived with. We thought we'd be OK if something happened. It was like, maybe the doctor would be OK," said.
"We were always sort of at the mercy of everybody."
Gov. Mark Dayton, who signed the same-sex marriage law, stopped by city hall early in the night to applaud the couples about to wed.
"The real credit," he told them, "belongs to all your parents, grandparents who said, 'That's -- that's my daughter. That's my grandson that you're vilifying, that you're demonizing. We're not going to stand for that here in Minnesota'. We're better than that in Minnesota and we proved that over the last year."
Minneapolis launched more than three dozen weddings on Thursday, starting just after midnight with Margaret Miles and Cathy ten Broeke of Minneapolis. They stood on the center steps with their 5-year-old son, Louie.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak started a hair early and had to stretch the sentences a bit to make sure his marriage pronouncement to them came after midnight.
"By the power now finally vested in me, by the laws of the people of Minnesota, we do hereby declare that Margaret and Cathy are legally married. You may kiss the bride," Rybak said, as the crowd erupted in applause and some bystanders wiped away tears.
The two women kissed, and their five-year-old son Louie hugged his moms.
Rybak married couples in the rotunda long into the morning, while Hennepin County judges presided over ceremonies in the Minneapolis City Council chambers.
Kelly Frankenberg of Lakeville married Donna Nguyen at City Hall while wearing a long white dress with sparkly straps. They said they decided to marry now partly because Frankenberg is seven months pregnant, and legal marriage eliminates any legal wrangling that otherwise would have to take place for both of them to have legal custody of the child.
"It's just historically incredible. It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it, that this is really part of history, too," Frankenberg said. "It's just very overwhelming -- in a good way."
For many, the night was an occasion for celebration even if it wasn't their wedding night. Travis and Jerry Fladmark of Richfield were already legally married in San Francisco in 2008. The new law means Minnesota recognizes that marriage as legal.
"There are so many things left to be done but for us this is the big step," Jerry Fladmark said. "We are legit now and that feels pretty exciting, it feels like you're truly part of society in every way."
Amy Conrad and Demoya Gordon of Minneapolis were heading home at about 2 a.m. after taking their vows. Like many at the gathering, they were stunned by how quickly legalization happened in the state, which only last year was considering a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.
"I'm so proud," Conrad said as she and her new wife walked arm in arm down 4th Street. "I couldn't be more happy."
Lynne Larsen of Minneapolis never expected to be able to marry her partner, Linda Alton, in her lifetime. After the marriage law passed in May, the 75-year-old Larsen posted a singing invitation to her wedding on YouTube.
Early Thursday morning, the couple wore white pants and the same colorful blouses for the occasion. The choice was accidental, said Alton, 68. She and Larsen had picked the same thing out in the store.
"We said, 'our families are going to die, our daughters are going to cringe,'" Alton said.
Daughters Christine and Kay Alton stood by, smiling. The outfits were forgiven. They were pleased their mom's 24-year relationship was now officially recognized by the state of Minnesota.