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Area counties not yet ready to roll out same-sex marriage applications

WILLMAR - Marriage license applications have been updated for use by same-sex couples in some Minnesota communities but not yet in most rural counties.

Officials from Kandiyohi, Meeker and Swift counties said they have been researching the issue but likely will not revise the applications to fit the new state statute authorizing marriage regardless of gender until they discuss the issue with colleagues at this week's annual conference of the Minnesota Association of County Officers.

"We're waiting for some direction from the state association and for our county attorney's advice," said Ron Vadnais, Swift County Treasurer.

Legislation passed this year authorizes the marriage and divorce of two persons, regardless of gender. Same-sex couples can legally marry starting Aug. 1.

There are questions about what kind of wording to use to replace terms - like bride and groom - that are typically found in a marriage license application and the terms "one man" and "one woman" that have usually been included in the oath when a license is obtained.

"There's some general wording that doesn't fit with the existing application," said Vadnais.

Likely options include "applicant 1 and 2" or "party 1 and 2."

There's never been a standard statewide marriage license application and each county will continue to have flexibility in how the new marriage application is worded and formatted.

"We don't have a model to go by, so we'll have to go with what fits for Swift County," said Vadnais, who said there probably will not be many differences in applications between the counties.

Meeker County Treasurer Sharon Euerle said it's important to have "consistency between counties" regarding the applications but she said each county is responsible for crafting an application they are "comfortable with" based on how their county attorney interprets the state law.

Kandiyohi County Recorder Julie Kalkbrenner said she's been in contact with County Attorney Jenna Fischer but no decision has been made yet on how to reword the application.

Besides changing the application to comply with the new state law, Kalkbrenner said Kandiyohi County might fine-tune other language in the application at the same time.

The date for making new licenses available in counties will also vary across the state.

Eurle said Meeker County is in the "beginning stages" of the process but expects to "have a game plan" in the next couple weeks.

Euerle and Vadnais said they expect to have the forms available in their counties well in advance of the Aug. 1 date that same-sex marriages become legal in Minnesota.

Because there's a five-day waiting period in Minnesota, Vadnais said he sees no reason to "hold back" on making applications available to the public so that a same-sex marriage could take place on Aug. 1.

"We'll be ready to go whenever they say we can go," said Vadnais. "Whatever the law requires us to do, we'll do our best to comply."

Kalkbrenner said at this point she does not plan to have the new applications available until Aug. 1.

After getting the wording finalized with the county attorney, Kalkbrenner said she needs to work with the computer software company that provides the online application.

So far none of the three counties has fielded calls requesting an application for a same-sex marriage license but Kalkbrenner said some counties have had calls from couples who want to get a marriage license that still says "bride" and "groom."

Kalkbrenner said she expects there may be a rush to get marriage licenses before Aug. 1 by couples who want the current wording on their marriage license.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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