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Few marriage licenses issued for same-sex couples in southwest Minnesota

Daily Globe graphic by Cindy Ramert.

WORTHINGTON -- One month after same-sex couples could legally wed in Minnesota, the six counties in the far southwest corner of the state have recorded just seven applications for marriage licenses. Statewide, at least 1,640 applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples have been recorded since the process opened, according to a story released Monday by the Associated Press.

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Rock County, whose western border is shared with South Dakota -- a state that does not allow same-sex couples to marry and whose southern border is shared with Iowa, which legalized gay marriage in April 2009 -- led the tally with three same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses in August. In all, the county recorded 20 marriage licenses during the one-month period, according to a spokesperson in the Rock County Land Records Office.

Pipestone County, which also borders South Dakota, has issued two marriage licenses to same-sex couples thus far -- with the first application already submitted on June 3.

The county was the first in the state to issue a same-sex marriage license, according to Pipestone County Recorder Mary Ann DeGroot. Pipestone County opened its application process three days before Twin Cities-metro counties.

While couples were allowed to apply for their marriage license earlier this summer, Minnesota's new gay marriage law didn't take effect until Aug. 1, delaying any same-sex marriages until then. In Minnesota, a marriage license is valid for up to six months from the date issued.

Kerry and Christy Johnson, the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Minnesota, chose Pipestone County because they grew up there. The couple had already married in Iowa, and simply wanted the Minnesota licensure, De Groot said.

The second same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in Pipestone County was the first to actually get married in there as well.

"We were quite surprised that we issued the first same-sex marriage application in the state," DeGroot said. "We voted so conservatively last fall, but we obviously do have same-sex couples in our area. We're just happy we can assist them."

The application process is now "in the works" for Pipestone County's third same-sex marriage request, and DeGroot said she has fielded numerous other phone inquiries about the process.

"We've had two ministers from South Dakota who are willing to perform same-sex marriages in Minnesota and have registered their credentials in Pipestone County," she said, adding that once a minister registers in one Minnesota county, he or she can perform marriage ceremonies anywhere in the state.

DeGroot said it is common for ministers from out of state to register their credentials in Minnesota, whether it's to conduct a traditional or same-sex marriage.

In Nobles County, Recorder Lynn Wilson said there has been two requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples received thus far. One couple was from South Dakota; the other was from Oklahoma.

"The guys (from Oklahoma) were on their way to the Twin Cities," Wilson said. "I don't know if (they chose Worthington) because it was just close to the interstate, or if they had connections in town."

Both same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses in Nobles County requested to waive the five-day waiting period so they could get married the same day. One of the couples was married at Prairie Justice Center.

"In our county, we don't charge to waive the waiting period," Wilson said.

The fee for a marriage license is $115, although it's reduced to $40 if the couple has completed 12 hours of premarital education.

Couples who request to waive the waiting period must meet with a judge to obtain approval.

"We don't have a sitting judge here every day -- we share with Rock County," said DeGroot, adding that it takes perhaps more planning there than it would in a county like Nobles, which has a full-time judge.

Cottonwood, Murray and Jackson counties were among at least 29 counties across the state who didn't have a single request from a same-sex couple seeking a marriage license.

Because counties aren't required by the state to track the gender of individuals applying for a marriage license, there is no state database to research information. The AP received information from 83 of the state's 87 counties for its story.

Among some of the other findings in their data collection, the AP reported that Hennepin and Ramsey counties had the highest requests for marriage licenses among same-sex couples. The two counties make up about 32 percent of Minnesota's total population. In addition, there was at least one applicant for same-sex marriage in each of 40 counties where the constitutional ban was favored in last November's election.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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