Grand Forks women will be first same-sex couple married in Polk County
GRAND FORKS - Though Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage, not North Dakota, that won't stop Grand Forks residents Katie Craig and Mary Gonzalez from tying the knot at a midnight ceremony in Crookston on Thursday, Aug. 1, just as the legalization takes effect.
Craig and Gonzalez were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license at the Polk County Government Center in Crookston, Minn., and they'll be the first to be married there.
"Whatever time they opened, we were there," said Gonzalez, a University of North Dakota student who moved to Grand Forks from her hometown in California two years ago. "We want to get it done. We want to be legal like everybody else."
Her fiancée, Craig, is from Warren, Minn.
Theirs will be one of three marriages conducted Aug. 1 by Michelle Cote, one of two people who run the county office issuing marriage licenses.
"Michelle seemed super excited that all this was happening," Gonzalez said. "It was really cool, because we got to see her cross off the words 'between one man and one woman' (on the oath on the marriage application)."
Cote explained that the county's computer software will also be updated to replace the terms "bride" and "groom" with more generic labels.
Coming to terms
While attending high school in Warren, Craig met Gonzalez through an online video game website. At the time, they were both dating boys, though they began to feel that was not their sexual orientation. Over the years, they communicated via online messaging and webcam services.
"It's like we grew up together 2,000 miles away," Craig said, smiling.
As a high school graduation gift, Gonzalez got to fly here to meet Craig in person for the first time.
"I grew up in Warren, a very small town, in a very strict Catholic upbringing," Craig explained. "It was hard for me to come to terms with what I actually felt about Mary, and girls in general."
After Craig graduated from the University of Minnesota, Crookston, she moved in with Gonzalez in California.
But even with a college degree, jobs were not easy to come by in the Golden State, and they found themselves ostracized for their relationship by much of their Riverside, Calif., community.
"We got a lot of dirty looks in California -- way more than we get in Grand Forks, actually," Craig said. "I have a theory that it's because of 'Minnesota Nice' that they're not going to blatantly (pass judgment here)."
Still, she says they do receive "odd looks" from people in Grand Forks.
Price to pay
Craig said that coming out virtually destroyed her relationship with her mother, with whom she hasn't spoken in more than a year. "My family doesn't want to talk about it, doesn't want to acknowledge it."
"I don't know who in their right mind would choose to be gay if they had a choice... with all the flak people get for it," Gonzalez said. "Why would somebody choose to make their life that much more difficult?"
Gonzalez grew up with an older brother who was gay, and she said that helped her know what to expect when she came out herself.
"I saw a lot of the bad. My brother has been beat up; he's been called a lot of names -- he's just been through a lot of bad stuff," she said. "Actions are chosen, not feelings. It's not like I'm choosing this life to be a bad person; I'm choosing to love the person I love."
Despite all the "bad" that they often have to deal with day-to-day, Craig and Gonzalez said they are focused on something very good: their wedding.
They both have family members and friends coming from as far as Wisconsin and California for the midnight ceremony.
"We're going to have a big horde of people," Gonzalez joked. "They're almost more excited than I am! They're not, but almost."
After the Supreme Court deemed the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional last month, Craig and Gonzalez's marriage will be recognized on a federal level.
However, on a state level, their marriage will not be recognized in North Dakota.
Craig called the contrasting laws "weird and confusing," but this did not deter their plans for marriage in the least.
"Even if it's not gonna be recognized by every single state, I'm most excited to be with the person that I want to be with and actually be recognized by other people," Gonzalez said. "That's what's important to us."
And perhaps, she said, North Dakota might soon decide to recognize same-sex marriages as well.
"I work in East Grand Forks," Craig said. "So it's going to be really sad each morning to go across the bridge and think, 'I am a full-fledged citizen, and I am legally recognized' and then go home where I'm not."
The couple moved into their new home in Grand Forks just weeks before Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage. Had they known that the Minnesota law would pass, Craig said they would have moved to East Grand Forks instead.
But for now, Craig said she is just "excited about marrying the person I love."