State sees a gay-marriage rush

Published 9:31 am Tuesday, September 3, 2013

ST. PAUL — Same-sex couples received nearly 1 in 3 marriage licenses issued in Minnesota since they were allowed to wed, The Associated Press found in a statewide survey of the first month’s impact of the new gay marriage law.

Since Minnesota became the 12th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, at least 1,640 same-sex couples applied to be married. Counties aren’t required to report such data to the state, so the AP built a database through calls to all 87 counties.

Millions of dollars were spent trying to block gay marriage in Minnesota, while many millions more were spent trying to achieve it. The rush by same-sex couples to take advantage of the new law likely reflects a pent-up demand by couples together for many years.

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“This is the product of people who were living in the legal wilderness for so long, suddenly no longer being told their relationships are substandard,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis and a sponsor of the bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May. “There’s an excitement out there right now. I’ve been going to so many weddings lately, it’s like I’m two years out of college again.”

AP obtained information from 83 of 87 counties. Among the findings:

• Demand was heaviest in the metro area, with three of every four licenses for gay marriages issued in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, which make up about 32 percent of Minnesota’s population.

• At least 1,433 licenses were issued to gay couples in the 12 counties where most voters opposed a 2012 attempt to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota’s constitution. One county in that category — St. Louis — wouldn’t provide a license breakdown.

• In 29 of the responding counties, no gay couples sought licenses. All are counties where voters favored the constitutional ban. They account for about 7 percent of the state’s population.

• There was at least one application for a gay marriage in 40 counties where the constitutional ban had majority support. Clay County, where Moorhead is the population center, had the most with 31.

• Statewide, almost 3,600 licenses were issued to opposite-sex couples from Aug. 1 through the final days of the month, when the AP sought the information.

The AP’s data aren’t a precise reflection of the number of couples who wed beginning at midnight Aug. 1. Marriage licenses are valid for six months after receipt, and some people who seek one could later decide not to marry. Marriage certificates are issued after nuptials, but those documents don’t list the gender of each party to the marriage.

State law requires marriage licenses applications to include a space for people to mark their gender. Some counties opened the application window for same-sex couples in June, but none of the licenses could take full force until August.

Officials in Pine, Rock and Todd counties refused requests for the information. St. Louis County also withheld the data but said in response to an open records request that it would consider turning over details within two weeks.

State officials estimated this spring that 5,000 gay and lesbian couples would get married in the law’s first year; the Census Bureau estimated in 2010 that there were 10,000 gay couples living in Minnesota.

Although Twin Cities-area counties led the way, same-sex marriage applications popped up in every corner of the state — from the seven in Cook County at the northeastern tip of the arrowhead, to the two in Lyon County in the southwest corner.

Minnesota for Marriage, the political group that pushed for the failed constitutional amendment and fought the gay marriage bill at the Capitol, has repeatedly highlighted the urban-rural split on the issue. Noting the one-month anniversary of the law, the group vowed again last week to try to defeat lawmakers who supported gay marriage against the wishes of most in their district.

“We did not forget,” the group said in an email to supporters.

One of the swing votes for the law came from Rep. Jay McNamar, a Democrat from Elbow Lake in western Minnesota. In the seven counties included in his district, only four gay couples applied for marriage licenses.

“Come election time it will get brought up, I know that. But I don’t regret what I did,” McNamar said. He said he heard from more gay-marriage supporters than opponents from back home when the bill was moving through the legislative process. McNamar said he recently got a wedding announcement from a gay couple in Morris, who likely account for the lone license application in Stevens County.

Robert Marcum and Joel Hoppe were one of two gay couples to apply for a license in central Minnesota’s Aitkin County. “Oh, there was another?” Marcum said last week.

Marcum and Hoppe wed Aug. 1 in the yard of their home in McGregor. Together 17 years, Marcum said they had no intention of waiting any longer. Marcum, 61, said he’s not surprised gay marriage is coming slower to rural areas.

“For many years, when you were gay in a small town you moved to the city,” said Marcum, a member of his township board who said he’s yet to hear a single unkind remark about his marriage. “But the longer examples like us are out there, the more that’s going to change.”