Next Thursday, same-sex couples in Minnesota can take the first legal step toward stomping the glass, jumping the broom and kissing the bride/groom.
Marriage license applications for same-sex couples will be available for the first time when service centers open that morning in Hennepin, Washington and Ramsey counties. A marriage license obtained in one county is good anywhere in Minnesota.
At the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, the service center will open at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, as it does daily. But there will be a slight change in the new marriage license applications — rather than asking for the names of the bride and groom, they will ask for the names of the first and second "applicants."
"We will be able and ready to accept applications a week from today," Mark Chapin, registrar and director of taxpayer services for Hennepin County, said Thursday. "We're opening up the process now so the paperwork can be handled in a very orderly fashion."
On May 14, Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law a bill that made Minnesota the 12th state to allow gay marriage. But the law, effective Aug. 1, didn't lay out the application process. Under current state law, marriage licenses aren't valid until five days after they are issued unless a couple gets a judicial waiver, generally granted only in emergencies.
So it wasn't clear until Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman became the first to issue an opinion Thursday whether same-sex couples could apply for licenses before Aug. 1. Freeman ruled that couples would be able to come to Hennepin County and apply for — and walk out with — a marriage license that will be valid Aug. 1.
That was good news for the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, who have announced plans for same-sex wedding ceremonies starting at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak wants to open City Hall for early Aug. 1 ceremonies, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman intends to hold ceremonies at Como and Irvine parks.
In light of Freeman's opinion, other counties may follow suit.
Couples can fill out application forms in advance online, but applications must be made in person. Couples who want to get married Aug. 1 should apply no later than July 26, officials said. Marriage licenses from Hennepin County are handed out when a couple applies, but are postdated five days.
Hennepin County typically issues at least 7,000 marriage licenses a year, a spokeswoman said. No one knows what sort of demand to expect with the new law, but Chapin said the county will be ready to go next Thursday with extra staff.
The fee for a marriage license is $115 unless a couple undergoes 12 hours of premarital counseling; then the cost is $40. Like all marriage licenses, the same-sex licenses will have a six-month expiration date — Jan. 31, 2014, in this case.
"It's hard to overstate the level of excitement," Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said about the new law, adding that he has already received an invitation to a wedding of two women.
Putting the event in historic context, he noted how in 1970, University of Minnesota students Jack Baker and Mitchell McConnell, both men, came to the Government Center seeking a marriage license. The county attorney blocked the marriage, the state Supreme Court upheld that decision and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Plans in other counties
The application process will be different outside Hennepin County. Ramsey and Washington counties will start taking applications next week, but neither plans to issue licenses before 8 a.m. on Aug. 1.
In Washington County, property records and taxpayer services director Jennifer Wagenius said the county will mail the licenses or allow them to be picked up, depending on the couple's request, she said.
In Ramsey County, the application windows also will open at 8 a.m. Aug. 1 at Vital Records at 555 Cedar St., county Department of Health spokesman Chris Burns said.
Asked about how the delay in issuance might affect Coleman's plans for midnight Aug. 1 ceremonies, Burns said the county is "exploring other options for making the licenses available before 8 a.m. August 1st."
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson