MARSHALL - It was close quarters inside the Daily Grind coffeeshop on Thursday evening. People sat practically elbow to elbow - but the mood was joyful. A rainbow-colored tiered cake was the centerpiece of a buffet set up along the bar. Decorations on top read, "Love Won In Minnesota."
Aug. 1 marked the first day that same-sex marriages could legally be performed in Minnesota, after a bill was passed by the state Legislature this spring. The celebrations reached to Marshall, where members of Buffalo Ridge PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) had a potluck supper at the Daily Grind. Guests said they had many reasons to celebrate, but most important was that more Minnesotans were free to marry the people they loved.
"This has been a long time coming," said Rev. Coleen Tully, as she led the gathering in a short prayer.
"We both just kind of smile every now and then, and we can't get the grins off our faces," Sandy Aronen said.
Aronen and Joyce Peltzer, of Cottonwood, said the day was special for them because now their own marriage will be recognized as legal in Minnesota. Peltzer said they had officially gotten married in Iowa in 2011 because "We didn't think things were going to change very fast in Minnesota."
While a church ceremony in 1993 was more significant to their relationship, Aronen and Peltzer said having state recognition was also important. It was a relief to know they would have the same rights and protections as straight married couples in Minnesota, like inheritance rights or joint insurance.
"We've always tried to be ourselves," although it hasn't always been easy, Peltzer said. She hoped actions like the marriage bill would help pave the way for more same-sex couples to feel comfortable being open about their relationships.
The new law had area families being hopeful, as well. Darwin Dyce said the new laws could make it possible for his own daughter and her partner to celebrate a lifelong commitment.
"Maybe someday, they'll have the opportunity to have the community come together and support their commitment to love one another," Dyce said.
Being legally able to marry is an opportunity that could have a profound impact for many people, said Jen Pohl, a psychologist working in southwest Minnesota. "Really, the benefits (of marriage) are insurmountable," she said. Research shows that married couples live longer, happier lives, she said. And for same-sex couples, having official marriage recognition offers a chance to be true to themselves.
"Being able to say, 'I am married to the person I love,' is helpful," Pohl said.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people still face a lot of stigma and risk, Pohl said. She and other people gathered Thursday night said the work toward acceptance and equality needs to continue.
Granting equal marriage rights, Dyce said, "Doesn't have to be a divisive thing."
"I think a lot has happened, but there's still so much more that needs to happen," Peltzer said.