Minneapolis Mayor Performs Marathon Of Gay Marriage Ceremonies

After Minnesota legalized gay marriage at midnight on Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak kept his City Hall open all night, performing one same-sex marriage ceremony after another. By the wee hours of the morning, he had officiated the weddings of 46 couples. He tells Melissa Block about the experience.

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From NPR News it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. One couple wore slinky evening dresses, another tie-dye T-shirts and jeans. One couple exchanged their vows in sign language. It was a same-sex wedding marathon yesterday at city hall in Minneapolis, as Minnesota's law legalizing gay marriage went into effect. From midnight to 7:00 in the morning, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak officiated at 46 weddings on the marble stairs inside city hall.

Mayor Rybak is taking a break from his wedding duties today and he joins me from city hall. Mayor Rybak, welcome to the program. How's your voice doing today?

MAYOR R. T. RYBAK: My voice is doing good and I haven't married anybody since, so I think I'm back to real life.

BLOCK: Well, let's go back. This all started back in May when the Minnesota Senate voted to recognize gay marriage rights. And you shouted something into the rotunda of the capitol. What was it that you shouted?

RYBAK: I said, if this thing passes, come on down to city hall and I'll marry you. I didn't quite realize how much work that would be for my staff around me but it was also an incredible labor of love.

BLOCK: Did the first of those 46 marriages that you performed feel different from the last ones? I mean, did something start out feeling very historic and by the end it felt routine?

RYBAK: Well, when we did the first wedding, it was obviously historic and deeply significant. When I started the second, I started it by saying to the crowd, now we begin the process of making something that's been historic become the routine. And that, I think, is very important. And certainly by the end of the night it felt different.

However, we made a huge effort not to make this a conveyor belt of love. And I studied up a lot on the couples before and read their bios. In between weddings I would run up the marble staircase to the second floor, meet them, talk to them for a couple of minutes, really get grounded on why they were doing it, come back down the steps, take my position. Then they would come down, then we'd start all over again. And we did this, you know, 46 times.

The reason that was important is that people shouldn't have to wait a minute longer after waiting all those years. But they should also know that this wasn't just them getting rammed through but it was really about the uniqueness of each of them and, boy, did that come out.

BLOCK: And what were some of the things you heard in those conversations that struck you about the couples and the stories that they told you?

RYBAK: I overwhelmingly heard that most never expected this to happen in their lifetime. I heard wide varieties of why people got married, many of the ones that you hear in any other situation. But I think in this case there were some who knew there were 515 pieces of Minnesota law tied to marriage. And so, their health care, their home, et cetera, mattered.

There were some people who talked about some range of emotion that I guess you could summarize by saying they wanted to be treated just like everyone else. And Kathy(ph) and Margaret(ph), the first couple we married, talked to me about when they were filling out the application. Kathy was coming to work for the city, actually. She filled out the paperwork. It was the day after her honeymoon, after her commitment ceremony and she had to fill out the box - single.

These things are about law but they are about the idea of being able to see people together. And I think how people see you through their eyes matters. I saw people look in the eyes of somebody they loved and it change at all because of a marriage, but it did change how other people look through other eyes.

BLOCK: Well, there's at least one conservative group in Minnesota that says it will work to defeat the state representatives who voted for the gay marriage bill. Is it fair to say, do you think, that the support for same-sex marriage that you see there in the Twin Cities is not shared in a good part of the state?

RYBAK: The people in Minneapolis/St. Paul are clearly more open to this issue than the rest of the state but it's clearly not accurate to say that there's an enormous gap in different parts of the state. There's a level of support but what's very interesting is when you look at the couples that we married, the vast majority of people who I was marrying started in other parts of Minnesota.

And I think people in rural parts of America are far more open on this issue, not because they go to some political meeting but because it's a person they were at church with, a guy on the football team. And as those stories more and more come back to hometowns and as people become more comfortable being there, you'll see what's happening already in Minnesota. This marriage amendment that would've banned all of this was defeated not just because people in Minneapolis/St. Paul felt a certain way, but because people all over the state felt that way. And I think that's the real good thing.

BLOCK: That's Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, a wedding officiate 46 times over. Mayor Rybak, thanks very much.

RYBAK: Thank you.

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