What will being a gay marriage destination mean for Minn.?

Published 9:43 am Friday, September 6, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Paging San Francisco and Boston: Minneapolis wants a piece of your turf.

The Midwestern city’s mayor is making a pitch to become the gay marriage destination for the middle of the country, urging couples to come to the City of Lakes to tie the knot. Mayor R. T. Rybak is urging Chicago couples to come north to exchange vows, and soon, will go to Colorado and Wisconsin to spread his message.

But will it work? And why is he launching this campaign now?

Email newsletter signup

Q: What is Minneapolis’s mayor trying to do?

A: Rybak is dangling Minnesota’s recently enacted gay marriage law to gay couples in nearby states including Illinois that don’t allow same-sex weddings, hoping they travel to Minnesota for a marriage license since it’s closer than the other, mostly coastal states where it’s allowed. The ad campaign, dubbed “I Want to Marry You in Minneapolis,” will run in publications in Chicago as well as Milwaukee, Madison and Denver.

Rybak is an appropriate messenger: the longtime supporter of gay marriage performed 46 same-sex weddings in the hours after it became legal in Minnesota on Aug. 1, and later presided over the wedding of the city’s police chief and her wife.

Q: How much money could this actually bring the state?

A: Potentially millions in tourism dollars. It’s still one of only two Midwestern states to allow gay marriage (Iowa is the other), and Rybak and Minnesota tourism officials are trying to turn the Land of 10,000 Lakes into a major draw for gay couples throughout the region. That means money in the pockets of Minnesota hotels, florists, caterers, photographers and other wedding vendors. Rybak is also hoping that some visitors are taken with Minnesota’s fabled high quality of life that they start thinking about a permanent move.

Q: How did Minnesota legalize gay marriage?

A: Last November, Minnesotans surprisingly voted down a constitutional gay marriage ban — the first time that ever happened nationwide. That same election saw new Democratic majorities in the state Legislature, who soon voted to add Minnesota to the growing list of states to allow marriage between same-sex couples after a massive, well-funded lobbying campaign. It became the first Midwestern state to legalize gay marriage by a legislative vote.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law in May, and it took effect Aug. 1 amid much hoopla and a flood of gay weddings. An analysis by The Associated Press found that at least 1,640 same-sex couples have applied for marriage licenses in Minnesota already. Anecdotal evidence has shown at least a few couples have crossed over from border cities like Fargo, N.D., and Superior, Wis., to get married.

Q: So is this campaign going to work?

A: There’s ample proof that gay couples who live in states that don’t allow them to get married are willing to cross state lines to do so. “We thought it was important to be counted somewhere,” said Erika Mauter, a Minneapolis graduate student who traveled to Vermont in 2010 to marry her longtime partner, Missy Weldy, at a time when gay marriage looked a long ways off in Minnesota.

Mauter and Weldy’s marriage became legal in Minnesota on Aug. 1, and any Illinois gay couple that marries in Minnesota would likely receive the same instant recognition if Illinois finally crosses the gay marriage threshold. In addition, the federal government recently started recognizing gay marriages, creating yet another incentive for couples in states like Illinois to make it legal in Minnesota.