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Cali Owings, Published July 17 2013

Clay County starts accepting applications for same-sex marriages

MOORHEAD – Eight couples stopped at the Clay County Courthouse Wednesday to apply for a marriage license – a routine step for any couple with pending nuptials.

But for six of those couples who are same-sex partners, it was the first step toward legally recognized marriage in Minnesota, which will become official on Aug. 1 when the new state law legalizing same-sex marriage goes into effect.

Wednesday was the first day same-sex couples could apply for a marriage license in Clay County.

Celeste Carlson and her partner, Amber Allebach, were among the first couples to apply.

“It’s really exciting and surreal to stop and think about what this truly means,” Carlson said.

But in many ways it’s just a piece of paper, Carlson said, because she and Allebach have been living as a married couple since a commitment ceremony at their church in 2007.

Applications trickled in Wednesday, said a representative for the Clay County recorder. More are expected in the days leading up to a mass Clay County civil marriage ceremony on Aug. 1.

The new gender-neutral licenses replace the words “bride” and “groom” with “applicant.”

The Clay County Courthouse will be open from 11:30 p.m. July 31 until 1 a.m. Aug. 1 to for the mass civil marriage ceremony.

The ceremony is open to all couples, but will be popular among same-sex couples who want to be married as soon as they’re able to under the new law.

Judges Lisa Borgen and Michelle Lawson will preside at the ceremony that will begin shortly after midnight.

In order to participate in the ceremony, couples must sign up with Clay County Court Administration and apply for a marriage license by July 26. There’s a five-day waiting period before licenses become valid. Marriage licenses are valid for six months in the state of Minnesota.

Carlson and Allebach picked up their marriage license Wednesday because they wanted to make sure they got it in time for the midnight ceremony.

Carlson said she doesn’t know much about the ceremony except that she and Allebach registered and just have to show up.

Their commitment ceremony the first time around was more “intimate,” Carlson said of the celebration with family and friends. Both brides wore white gowns and had their hair done – “the whole nine yards,” Carlson said.

She said she’s taking a more casual approach to the civil marriage ceremony by wearing jeans.

“It’s progress for our whole community,” Carlson said. “We thought it would be appropriate to share this with our whole community.”

Those who want to participate in the ceremony can register until 4:30 p.m. on July 29 by calling Clay County Court Administration at (218) 299-5065.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599