Gay couples began getting hitched at the stroke of midnight in Minnesota, where an estimated 1,000 people packed into Minneapolis City Hall to celebrate 46 same-sex weddings officiated by Mayor R.T. Rybak, as several Hennepin County judges performed another 21 in the City Council's chambers.
Massive floral bouquets flanked a makeshift altar set up on a white marble staircase under the city's Father of Waters sculpture, with crowds of spectators peering down from balconies and applauding.
"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 be wed at City Hall.
Those in attendance burst into applause as Rybak pronounced Miles and ten Broeke married. The couple stood nearby embracing their 5-year-old son, Louie.
"We do," all three said to more cheers as they promised to be a family.
Hours later in Rhode Island, local officials began issuing the state's first marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While states such as Massachusetts and California saw long lines and scores of weddings on the day gay marriages began, Rhode Island officials were predicting a relatively calm day because same-sex marriage was already an option everywhere else in New England.
Federico Santi and John Gacher, who have been together for 41 years and who were already in a civil union, got married right after the Newport city clerk's office opened at 8:30 a.m.
"It's certainly not going to change our lives, but it's going to change the lives of lots of young people, and that's what we are really proud of: that now they have the opportunity to get married if they choose to," Santi said.
City Clerk Kathleen Silvia, who issued the license and has known Santi for 28 years, called Thursday "a day of smooching" in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island and Minnesota became the 12th and 13th states to allow gay marriage, meaning it is now legal in more than a quarter of U.S. states, as well as in Washington, D.C. The national gay rights group Freedom to Marry estimates that about 30 percent of the U.S. population now lives in places where gay marriage is legal.
In Minnesota, budget officials estimated that about 5,000 gay couples would marry in the first year. Its enactment capped a fast turnabout on the issue in just over two years. After voters rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage last fall, the state Legislature this spring moved to make it legal.
"I don't think either of us ever thought we'd see this day," said Mike Bolin, of the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, who was marrying Jay Resch, his partner of six years, at Minneapolis City Hall.
Rhode Island became the latest Northeast state to allow same-sex marriage. Lawmakers in the heavily Catholic state passed the marriage law this spring, after more than 16 years of efforts by same-sex marriage supporters. Both Minnesota and Rhode Island will automatically recognize marriages performed in other states.
Bolin and Resch celebrated Wednesday night with several hundred others at Wilde Roast Cafe along the Mississippi River north of downtown Minneapolis. Many at the event planned to walk to City Hall for the mass nuptials.
Dayton proclaimed Aug. 1 to be "Freedom to Marry Day" in Minnesota.
Golden Valley-based General Mills Inc. donated Betty Crocker cakes for the event, which was also to feature performances by local musicians and services donated by wedding photographers, florists and other businesses.
Weddings were not limited to the Twin Cities. In St. Cloud, Stearns County court administrator Tim Roberts planned to marry a couple at 12:01 a.m. at the courthouse. "It feels historic. It's an honor to be a part of it," Roberts said. Midnight weddings were also planned for courthouses in Clay County, Polk County and elsewhere.
Ngowi reported from Newport, R.I. Associated Press writers Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis and David Klepper in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.