In a quiet moment on a dark summer night, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton ushered guests into Minneapolis City Hall. Hours later, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Reverend Dr. James Gertmenian made history as they officiated the first same-sex marriage in state history, while the crowd of over a thousand erupted into celebration and cries of joy.
On a sweeping, white marble staircase of the Minneapolis, City Hall Rotunda, Minnesota recognized a landmark victory in the struggle for marriage equality by celebrating the state legalization of same-sex marriage. Gustavus Alumna Cathy ten Broeke ’91 and her partner of 12 years, Margaret Miles, became the first legally married same-sex couple when the law went into effect on Aug. 1, 2013. Miles and ten Broeke were personally chosen by Minneapolis Mayor R.J Rybak for their civil contributions.
“Aug. 1 will be one of the most historic days for freedom and equal rights in the history of Minneapolis, and we are thrilled to celebrate it with the joy and dignity that these couples, the others that we will marry, and everyone in our city deserves. Every day after it, will be just like every day should be: one where everyone has the freedom to marry and commit for life to the person that they love,” Mayor Rybak stated through a Minneapolis press release.
After graduating from Gustavus with degrees in Psychology and Speech Communication, ten Broeke traveled to China where she taught English at a university. During her time abroad, ten Broeke particularly became interested in issues of poverty. After returning home, she alternated days working as a waitress and nights working at a homeless shelter.
“I absolutely fell in love with my job at the homeless shelter. I was so amazed by the stories of the men that I had met that I knew fairly quickly that I wanted to work on that issue and grow and learn what was bringing people into the state of homelessness in the first place,” ten Broeke said.
Ten Broeke spent many years directing a men’s homeless shelter and as a public policy aid to Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman. As a 2004 Bush Leadership fellow, ten Broeke earned her master’s degree in public policy and public affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. She is currently the State Director to Prevent and End Homelessness.
Miles and ten Broeke met at the homeless shelter at St. Stephen’s where they both worked. Having been acquaintances for quite some time, they began dating.
“From that first conversation, I had absolutely no doubt that this is who I’m going to be with and no doubt, all along the way, for the 15 years that we’ve been together. It’s been a pretty great gift in my life,” ten Broeke said.
“I was immediately drawn to Margaret the first time I met her. What became clear to me very early on in their relationship was that Cathy was herself with Margaret. Each of them provides the space for the other to be their best selves. I have never laughed as hard as I have with the two of them together. There is so much joy in their lives,” longtime friend Jennifer Tammi said.
Miles and ten Broeke previously had a commitment ceremony 12 and a half years ago with close family and friends. Upon returning from their honeymoon, ten Broeke arrived at a new job with the city, and was asked to fill out employment forms. When asked for her marital status, ten Broeke was forced to check the box marked, “single.”
Tammi was present for both the commitment ceremony and their wedding.
“The difference between the two was that this was a celebration that could be public. Their marriage 12 years ago was wonderful—lots of love and support from family and friends. It was a typical wedding with wonderful music, beautiful vows and a toast-filled reception, but it was not a ceremony that could be very public. In fact, we all had to be pretty low-key when we left the church so as not to draw attention to the fact that a same-sex marriage had been performed at the church. It is such a contrast to heterosexual weddings in which leaving the church often includes its own kind of ritual and ceremony. The recent ceremony was the exact opposite. Not only could we be loud and public when leaving city hall, but Cathy and Margaret’s pictures have shown up in newspapers around the country and even internationally,” Tammi said.
“I have never been in a state where I felt it was so palpable, the joy and celebration and love in that rotunda. It was truly remarkable. Margaret and I have marveled many times looking back on that night. There wasn’t a single negative that night. It was just joy and celebration. You could really feel it across the room,” ten Broeke said.
“The ability to have their union recognized as legal in the eyes of the law is a validation of the family they have become,” longtime friend Liesl Batz said.
Rybak officiated 46 marriages between 12:00 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. Seven of the couples have been together for over 30 years, and all 46 couples have been together for a combined 734 years. Seven Hennepin County Judges officiated an additional 21 same-sex couples in the Minneapolis City Council chambers.
History and Gender, Women, and Sexuality studies Professors Kate Wittenstein and Greg Kastor attended the wedding. Wittenstein knew ten Broeke as a student and have since supported her work to end homelessness in Hennepin County and are supporters of marriage equality.
“Needless to say, we were honored to be invited. The occasion was highly emotional for everyone there. It was a joyous occasion that brought everyone together in shared happiness for Cathy, Margaret, and their son, Louie. Among the crowd, I also noted a tremendous amount of pride in the state of Minnesota,” Wittenstein said.
In celebration of what Governor Dayton proclaimed to be ‘Freedom to Marry Day,’ many Minnesota businesses showed their support by donating goods and services to the couples. Because of the amount of donations, the weddings were conducted at no expense to the public.
Hotel Minneapolis offered a reception area to couples and invited guests. Betty Crocker, owned by General Mills and Edina bakery Queen of Cakes donated cakes to the first three couples to marry at City Hall. Brent Dundore, Brent Nelson, and The Art Institutes International Minnesota donated photography services. The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus sang at the beginning of the ceremonies.
“There were a thousand people in the rotunda, and I’m standing there with my 5 year-old son and my partner that I have been with for many years. And I’m looking around the room and standing in front of me was a group of my friends from Gustavus. Standing out in front of me was my family. On the balcony to the right were a bunch of our neighbors. Everywhere I looked were pockets of friends and family, old friends and new friends, colleagues that I have worked with for years and years. I first had this feeling, like my whole life was flashing before my eyes. No, I wasn’t dying, but I felt more alive than I have ever been,” ten Broeke said.
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