PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In massive group celebrations and in quieter individual ceremonies, gay couples began exchanging vows Thursday in Minnesota and Rhode Island as the roster 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 state in the Midwest where it is now legal to do so. In Rhode Island, the last New England state to allow same-sex marriage, the first weddings started at 8:30 a.m., when municipal offices opened.
Kent Stetson and Luis Astudillo were among the first gay couples in Rhode Island to tie the knot. They got a marriage license at Providence City Hall and shortly afterward married on a downtown street where they took a memorable walk on their first date 12 years ago.
"We are securing our rights today. We would have been married years ago if we could," Stetson, 34, said.
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 be 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. By contrast, 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, had no special plans, other than 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 only openly gay members of Congress, stayed in Washington.
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, clerks were so excited that they 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 state 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.