MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maggie George and Rebecca Voelkel have married each other twice, first ceremonially in their Minneapolis church in 2006, then legally while visiting San Francisco five years ago. Now the couple is mulling whether to do it all again — or to simply sleep through it — when gay marriage becomes legal in Minnesota this week.
They're among the gay couples nationwide who have ignored state lines in pursuit of a marriage license, even if it had no legal standing back home, as voters, courts or legislators slowly created the patchwork of U.S. states where gay marriage is legal.
As more states join those ranks, including Minnesota and Rhode Island on Thursday, such couples are deciding if another ceremony is in order. "Our friends give us a hard time," said George, a 58-year-old retired General Mills researcher who now works as a life coach. "Is there going to be another Rebecca and Maggie wedding?"
Regardless, come Thursday at midnight, Minnesota's law will recognize the marriages of gay couples who legally wed in other states. "We go to sleep not married, and wake up married," George said. The same will happen for couples in Rhode Island, but state Rep. Frank Ferri is planning a large bash for his second wedding to Tony Caparco on Thursday night. The two were married in British Columbia in 2006, but for their home state celebration, they'll join in a ceremony presided over by House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is also gay.
"It's more than just about us getting married. It's about celebrating the effort that led to this," Ferri said. Dan Hawkins and Michael Welter of Minneapolis aren't planning a new ceremony. They got married in Toronto on Aug. 7, 2012 — their 25th anniversary as a couple. They plan to attend a party the evening of July 31 in Minneapolis thrown by several groups that pushed for the gay marriage law.
"We'll toast at midnight, and we'll probably be in bed by 12:30," said Hawkins, 51, a Target executive. "We don't really like a big deal." Minnesota estimates about 5,000 gay couples will marry during the law's first year, but the state didn't analyze how many were already married somewhere else. Local and national gay rights groups said it's been a frequent practice, though not all states have welcomed non-residents. When Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize gay marriage, for example, only couples who were state residents could get a marriage license.
Once Rhode Island and Minnesota become the 12th and 13th states to legalize gay marriage, about 30 percent of the U.S. population will live in states with such laws, according to the gay rights group Freedom to Marry.
George and Voelkel, who are raising a daughter together, went to California in 2008 looking for a way to legally cement their relationship. They had a domestic partnership registration from the city of Minneapolis, in addition to the religious ceremony at their church on Thanksgiving weekend of 2006.
"It's amazing how many times we have tried to be married," George said. For Hawkins and Welter, both from large Catholic families, their Toronto marriage was partly a message to some relatives who supported last fall's proposed constitutional gay marriage ban in Minnesota. "The amendment came about, and we said we really feel like we need something on paper, not so much for ourselves but because we were feeling almost disrespected in a way," Hawkins said.
Rhode Island will be the last state in New England to legalize gay marriage, though some local businesses are hoping they'll see an uptick in business from gay couples who can now wed in picturesque Newport.
But Minnesota, like Iowa before it, could become a virtual Midwest magnet for gay couples. In fact, according to the Grand Forks Herald, the first gay couple expected to be legally married in Minnesota are two women who live in just across the border in Grand Forks, N.D. Gay marriage is against the law in North Dakota.
Cindy Killion, a mass communications professor at Winona State University in Minnesota, lives across the Mississippi River in Fountain City, Wis., with her partner Beth Cherney. The two will marry Thursday in Wabasha County, and are already scouting Minnesota real estate.
"We want to live somewhere where our relationship is legally recognized, and that ain't going to happen in Wisconsin for a while," Killion said. Killion and Cherney held a commitment ceremony in June 1998. They will officially marry on Thursday, but they plan to celebrate on Sept. 1 with a party for family and friends where they'll repeat their 1998 vows.
They, like many gay couples, have accumulated what Maggie George called "a stack of anniversaries." George and Voelkel, a United Church of Christ pastor, were friends for years before they started dating in 2004. They said they will most likely celebrate their newly acquired Minnesota marital status on Thanksgiving weekend, the seventh anniversary of their non-legal Minnesota church ceremony.
"We've never done a wedding dance. So that's one thing we could do is have a dance," George said.
Associated Press reporter David Klepper in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.