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.
"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.
Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who became one of the earliest prominent national supporters of legalizing gay marriage when he was a Republican U.S. senator, planned to attend a state lawmaker's wedding later in the day. House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, planned to officiate. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, one of the few openly gay members of Congress, stayed in Washington for the legislative session but issued a statement expressing support.
A Washington, D.C.-based group opposed to gay marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom, advised municipal clerks they could ask a colleague to issue licenses to same-sex couples if they were opposed. There were no reports of that happening in either state.
In some communities, excited clerks posed for photos with couples. Newport, R.I., City Clerk Kathleen Silvia gave kisses to Federico Santi and John Gacher, who have been together for 41 years and converted their civil union to a marriage Thursday morning. She called it "a day of smooching."
In Minnesota, budget officials estimated that 5,000 gay couples would marry in the first year. Voters there rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage last fall, and the Legislature this spring moved to make it legal.
Lawmakers in heavily Catholic Rhode Island passed the marriage law this spring after more than 16 years of efforts by same-sex marriage supporters.