The state Legislature legalized gay marriage in Minnesota last spring, and far north of St. Paul, same-sex couples in the Pine River area are feeling the effects of the law that was enacted Aug. 1.
Only months earlier, it seemed that this moment could be decades away. But when the Nov. 6, 2012, vote on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment to ban gay marriage failed, that marked a moment of hope, and action, for those the bill would have affected most.
For Dwight Kimball and Allen Wynn, owners of Dark Cravings Coffee Shop in Pine River, the long journey to marriage isn’t set to end until Oct. 5. That’s their wedding day.
Kimball and Wynn met when they worked together for Montgomery Ward Direct in the Twin Cities. They’ve been together almost 19 years, 15 of them in the Pine River area.
Though it was an option, Kimball and Wynn never had a commitment ceremony because they said the ceremony wouldn’t change anything between them.
“We never did that because we are already committed to each other so it just seemed pointless without having the legal backing that goes with full marriage,” Wynn said.
Kimball didn’t want to confuse anyone who was unfamiliar with same-sex marriage laws.
Out of practicality they had made no plans to marry. That is, until things started to change and a legal marriage within their home state started to seem like a real possibility.
Only months before, Kimball and Wynn were considering the possibility of leaving the state in the face of the marriage amendment.
“Every state it has ever been introduced in, it has passed. But Minnesota is a very fair-minded state where people are like, ‘Look, you mind your business, I’ll mind my business,’” Wynn said. “So we knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t (pass) so we were hopeful for that. At the time we were trying to decide, if it did (pass), then our family is important to us, but did we want to stay or eventually move somewhere where we could marry?”
The failure of the amendment to ban gay marriage changed everything. Kimball and Wynn said it may have bolstered efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.
“It got everybody talking and thinking. If the marriage amendment had never been pushed forward, there wouldn’t have been as many of us talking about it around the kitchen table or to our friends and family,” Kimball said. “It forced a lot of people to think, to talk about it and reflect on it, and it did help a lot.
“We hadn’t really thought about it. I mean, we thought about it, but we never really thought it would probably be legal in our lifetime,” Kimball said.
“At least not til we were little old men,” Wynn said.
“We still figure it would be years down the road. So, the day the House voted we realized this was going to happen. The Senate was pretty much guaranteed and we knew the governor was going to sign,” Kimball said. “That day we decided, OK, now we can start planning.”
The original plan was for a small, simple wedding, but as often happens with such plans, they grew.
“Everyone knows we’ve been together forever so we didn’t think it would be any big deal, but the more planning we started to do everybody was like, ‘We get to come, don’t we?’ so everyone was excited for us,” Wynn said.
They found out, just like any other intrepid engaged couple, that wedding planning is rarely simple.
Unlike traditional couples, for Wynn and Kimball marriage is not only the realization of something that so recently seemed like a distant aspiration, but it is a sort of validation that was never before available.
“We are a couple just like everybody else and we finally get to be married and get to be an actual couple not just in the eyes of our friends and family, but in the eyes of the state and the country, which is great. It’s validated our relationship even more than I thought it would, even though we’ve always known,” Kimball said. “Allen’s no longer going to be my partner. Telling people I have a husband is going to be weird. It changes the way I think about it just a little bit. It makes it feel even more solid and even more important.”
For this, and other couples, there is still a long way to go.
“The equality in Minnesota is great but now if a straight couple were to get married in Minnesota and travel outside the state, automatically their marriage is recognized in any other state. Ours is not. The equality isn’t completely there yet,” Wynn said.
Even so, they are hopeful.
“It’s going to be a long battle but I think we’re on the downhill slide of it now,” Wynn said.
“I’m not sure how any law is going to stand much longer,” Kimball said.
Kimball and Wynn’s wedding is to be performed at a personal theater designed by friends, and by a minister friend. What was going to be a small family gathering is now expected to bring a crowd of as many as 250 well wishers. Kimball and Wynn have not yet decided if they are going to exchange last names, or if they will hyphenate.
There are more same-sex couples in the area considering marriage. As of Aug. 5, the Cass County Auditor/Treasurer’s office had issued marriage licenses for two same-sex couples, neither of which had been returned yet. In Crow Wing County, the auditor’s office issued 10 licenses with one Aug. 2 marriage in Brainerd.