PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In public celebrations and intimate ceremonies, gay couples exchanged vows Thursday in Minnesota and Rhode Island as the number of places where same-sex couples can wed grew to more than a quarter of U.S. states.

Dozens of gay couples began getting hitched at the stroke of midnight in Minnesota, the largest Midwestern state where it is now legal to do so. In Rhode Island, the last New England state to allow same-sex marriage, weddings began at 8:30 a.m., when municipal offices opened.

Zachary Marcus and Gary McDowell were married Thursday afternoon at Providence City Hall by Mayor Angel Taveras. McDowell, 28, a Harvard Medical School researcher, was born in Northern Ireland. The recent Supreme Court decision striking down a law denying federal benefits to married gay couples means he can petition for permanent residency.

"It was important for us that it be the first day," said Marcus, 25, a Brown University medical student. "It's a personal day for us, and it's also a great political victory."

As of Thursday, same-sex couples can marry in 13 states and in Washington, D.C. The national gay rights group Freedom to Marry estimates that 30 percent of the U.S. population now lives in places where gay marriage is legal.

In Minneapolis, an estimated 1,000 people packed into City Hall at midnight to celebrate 46 same-sex weddings officiated by Mayor R.T. Rybak. Several Hennepin County judges performed 21 more in the City Council's chambers.

"I didn't expect to cry quite that hard," said a beaming Cathy ten Broeke, who with Margaret Miles was the first gay couple to wed at City Hall.

"We do," the couple and their 5-year-old son, Louie, said to cheers as they promised to be a family.

Gov. Mark Dayton had proclaimed Aug. 1 to be "Freedom to Marry Day" in Minnesota. Celebrations in Rhode Island were more muted, which advocates said was probably because so many nearby states already allow same-sex marriage.

Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who became one of the earliest prominent national supporters of legalizing gay marriage when he was a Republican U.S. senator, planned to attend a state lawmaker's wedding later in the day. House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, planned to officiate. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, one of the few openly gay members of Congress, stayed in Washington for the legislative session but issued a statement expressing support.

A Washington, D.C.-based group opposed to gay marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom, advised municipal clerks they could ask a colleague to issue licenses to same-sex couples if they were opposed. There were no reports of that happening in either state.

In some communities, excited clerks posed for photos with couples. Newport, R.I., City Clerk Kathleen Silvia gave kisses to Federico Santi and John Gacher, who have been together for 41 years and converted their civil union to a marriage Thursday morning. She called it "a day of smooching."

In Minnesota, budget officials estimated that 5,000 gay couples would marry in the first year. Voters there rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage last fall, and the Legislature this spring moved to make it legal.

Lawmakers in heavily Catholic Rhode Island passed the marriage law this spring after more than 16 years of efforts by same-sex marriage supporters.

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Condon reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writers Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis and Rodrique Ngowi in Newport, R.I., contributed to this report.

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Follow Pat Condon at and David Klepper at

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  • New York

    New York lawmakers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/24/new-york-gay-marriage_n_907901.html" target="_blank">legalized same-sex marriage on July 24, 2011</a>, making it the largest state at the time to pass such legislation.

  • Maryland

    Voters in Maryland <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">approved marriage equality in the November 2012 election</a>. Initially, the gay marriage bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on March 1, 2012, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force the issue back onto the ballot. With the passing of marriage equality, same-sex marriage <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/maryland-gay-marriage_n_2389044.html" target="_blank">ceremonies began on Jan. 1, 2013</a>.

  • Connecticut

    Connecticut's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/10/connecticut-gay-marriage_n_133605.html" target="_blank">ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry on Nov. 12, 2008</a>, making it the third state in the nation to do achieve marriage equality.

  • Iowa

    Iowa's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/03/iowa-gay-marriage-ban-rul_n_182782.html" target="_blank">ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional</a> on April 3, 2009.

  • Maine

    Maine <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">made history in the November 2012 election</a> when it became the first state to pass marriage equality on the ballot. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, "Voters in Maine came to the common-sense conclusion that all people deserve the ability to make loving, lifelong commitments through marriage." Just three years ago, a popular vote overturned legislation that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.

  • Massachusetts

    Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-legal-same-sex-marriage-performed-in-massachusetts" target="_blank"> legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004</a>. The state's Supreme Court initially found the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional on Nov. 18, 2003.

  • New Hampshire

    Same-sex couples were able to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-6042937.html" target="_blank">begin seeking marriage licenses</a> on Jan. 1, 2010.

  • Vermont

    Vermont, which invented civil unions, became <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/07/vermont-legalizes-gay-mar_n_184034.html" target="_blank">the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislature's vote</a> -- overriding the governor's veto. Same-sex couples were able to begin marrying on Sept, 1, 2009.

  • Washington D.C.

    Gay couples were able to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/01/gay-marriage-dc-council-p_n_375435.html" target="_blank">begin marrying in the nation's capital</a> on March 9, 2010.

  • California

    The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/proposition-8-timeline_n_3503512.html" target="_blank">voters passed Proposition 8</a>, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman. On June 26, 2013, by a 5-4 vote, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/hollingsworth-v-perry-ruling_n_3438269.html" target="_blank">the Supreme Court justices held in Hollingsworth v. Perry</a> that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial, opening the door for marriages to resume in the state.

  • Washington

    On February 13, 2012, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/13/washington-gay-marriage-signed-chris-gregoire_n_1273887.html" target="_blank">signed a law allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies</a> to begin on June 7, 2012. The process was delayed by gay marriage opponents who gathered enough signatures to put the issue up to a state vote in November 2012. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/09/washington-gay-marriage-law_n_2266574.html" target="_blank">Gay marriage passed on November 7, 2012.</a> The official determination for Washington did not come until one day after the election because of the state's mail-in voting system.

  • Rhode Island

    Gay marriage came to Rhode Island when Governor Lincoln Chafee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/gay-marriage-minnesota-rhode-island_n_3686034.html" target="_blank">signed the marriage equality bill</a> into law on May 2, 2013.

  • Delaware

    Delaware obtained gay marriage when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/delaware-gay-marriage-law-_n_3232771.html" target="_blank">Governor Jack Markell signed the marriage equality bill it into law</a> on May 7, 2013.

  • Minnesota

    Minnesota same-sex couples achieved marriage equality when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the legislation into law <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/minnesota-gay-marriage-legal-_n_3275484.html" target="_blank">on May 14, 2013</a>.

  • New Jersey

    Newark Mayor Cory Booker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/20/cory-booker-same-sex-marriage_n_4134116.html?&ir=Gay%20Voices&utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">began marrying same-sex couples</a> at City Hall at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2013.

  • Hawaii

    Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex marriage into law on Nov. 13, 2013, making it the 15th state to pass such legislation.

  • Illinois

    Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, with the House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/illinois-gay-marriage_n_4220793.html" target="_blank">having passed the bill on Nov. 5</a>. and Gov. Pat Quinn signing the legislation on Nov. 20.

  • New Mexico

    On Dec. 19, the New Mexico Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/19/new-mexico-gay-marriage_n_4474507.html?ir=Gay%20Voices" target="_blank">unanimously ruled</a> that same-sex marriage rights are protected under the Constitution.