The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 29, 2013

Top 10 stories, No. 2: Local counties approved first same-sex marriages

Joe Strong says he was surprised how far his story traveled

Surrounded by the media and loved ones eager to witness their lifelong commitment to each other, Rob Thomas and Joe Strong of rural St. Peter were married Aug.1 by Nicollet County Court Administrator Carol Melick.

“We’re just thrilled that this day is finally upon us. I didn't believe the actual legal day would ever come in our lifetimes," Strong said on their wedding day, the same day when Minnesota became the 12th state to recognize marriages between two people of the same gender.

Six months later, people still stop and congratulate them, Strong said.

"To see what our small-town story has meant to others, I didn't realize how much it meant to others ... how much they embraced the idea. There's been so much out-of-nowhere support," he said.

After the Associated Press republished the story of Thomas and Strong's ceremony, the couple found out they made the news in other states and several countries. Family members reported watching an Australian report on the marriage and a North Carolina newspaper featured a photo of the St. Peter men's wedding kiss, along with the headline "What are we waiting for?"

For 17 years before their marriage the two men were a couple, so much of the change in status has been about paperwork.

Thomas recently noted one of the details in their lives that is now handled differently. "When we fill out insurance forms, we now mark "married," he said.

A few weeks before Aug. 1, Jenn Melby and Anna Kelley signed their marriage papers at the license center in Mankato. They were greeted warmly by the Blue Earth County employees and by others waiting in line.

"It was a very empowering day," Kelley said at the time.

"All we had to do was change a few words, it all went pretty smoothly," Director Patty O'Connor said of the filing process that day.

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