PROVIDENCE, R.I. - In public celebrations and intimate ceremonies, gay couples exchanged vows Thursday in Minnesota and Rhode Island as the number of places where same-sex couples can wed grew to more than a quarter of U.S. states.
Dozens of gay couples began getting hitched at the stroke of midnight in Minnesota, the largest Midwestern state where it is now legal to do so. In Rhode Island, the last New England state to allow same-sex marriage, weddings began at 8:30 a.m., when municipal offices opened.
Zachary Marcus and Gary McDowell were married Thursday afternoon at Providence City Hall by Mayor Angel Taveras. McDowell, 28, a Harvard Medical School researcher, was born in Northern Ireland. The recent Supreme Court decision striking down a law denying federal benefits to married gay couples means he can petition for permanent residency.
Lisa Kesser, of Providence, R.I., front, reacts while completing paper work to obtain a marriage license with her partner of 20 years Dorcey Baker, behind center, at City Hall, in Providence, Thursday.
"It was important for us that it be the first day," said Marcus, 25, a Brown University medical student. "It's a personal day for us, and it's also a great political victory."
As of Thursday, same-sex couples can marry in 13 states and in Washington, D.C. The national gay rights group Freedom to Marry estimates that 30 percent of the U.S. population now lives in places where gay marriage is legal.
In Minneapolis, an estimated 1,000 people packed into City Hall at midnight to celebrate 46 same-sex weddings officiated by Mayor R.T. Rybak. Several Hennepin County judges performed 21 more in the City Council's chambers.
"I didn't expect to cry quite that hard," said a beaming Cathy ten Broeke, who with Margaret Miles was the first gay couple to wed at City Hall.
"We do," the couple and their 5-year-old son, Louie, said to cheers as they promised to be a family.
Gov. Mark Dayton had proclaimed Aug. 1 to be "Freedom to Marry Day" in Minnesota. Celebrations in Rhode Island were more muted, which advocates said was probably because so many nearby states already allow same-sex marriage.