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Gay couple from Glenwood wanted to get married, not make history
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Jonathan Yarbrough, left, and Cody Rogahn were one of the first same-sex couples married in Massachusetts on May 17, 2004. They say their marriage is a private affair, and don't want it used in any religious, moral or political fights. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
After Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay couples to wed, same-sex partners from across the country flocked to the state to get married. One of the first couples to take advantage of the new Massachusetts law came from west-central Minnesota. Cody Rogahn and Jonathan Yarbrough have returned to Glenwood, but they're not sure what to make of all the attention their wedding received.

Glenwood, Minn. — About 3,000 people live in the town of Glenwood in Pope County. The town spills down a long bluff along the shore of Lake Minnewaska. This is where Cody Rogahn, 55, and Jonathan Yarbrough, 30, have lived for five years.

This winter the couple decided to take a spring trip to Massachusetts.

They planned it so they'd be there May 17, the first day the state allowed same-sex couples to marry. They anticipated a quiet wedding, just them and a minister. But since they were the first gay couple to be married in Provincetown, nine members of the media attended their oceanside service.

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Image Massachusetts marriage license

The attention doesn't seem to bother the couple. Sitting in a downtown Glenwood restaurant, Yarbrough says they didn't realize the historic nature of what they were doing.

"It hadn't really registered until people started asking us how we felt about it being historic. Then we started to think about it, but that wasn't our impetus for going," Yarbrough says.

Rogahn says the historic aspect of their wedding did add something to the day, but he agrees that's not why they did it. They simply wanted to get married, something they can't do in Minnesota.

"Even though it's not Minnesota, it is in the United States, and I think that gives some credence and legitimacy to the relationship," Rogahn says.

Same-sex weddings in Massachusetts have fed the national debate over gay marriage.

Rogahn says he and Yarbrough just want to live their lives, and don't think what they did is anyone else's concern.

Whether it's next year or five years from now, we do expect some couples will get married in Massachusetts and challenge it in Minnesota. We're just not racing to become the first ones.
- Jonathan Yarbrough

"It's our personal lives. We chose to be married, and really, no one else should care. It's between the two of us and our commitment to each other," Rogahn says.

The fear some people have is gay couples like Yarbrough and Rogahn will want their Massachusetts marriages recognized here in Minnesota.

The issue is even holding up the prospect of a special session at the state Capitol. Legislative leaders say the session is needed to address issues of state debt and public safety.

Some Republicans insist debate over a constitutional amendment on gay marriage should be included in the session. But some Democrats say that debate has no place in the special session.

Sen. Michelle Bachmann, R-Stillwater, says the issue isn't about lawmakers banning gay marriage. Since gay couples are free to marry in Massachusetts, Bachman wants the Legislature to let voters decide whether marriage in Minnesota should be defined as only between a man and a woman.

"If we really do believe in a democracy, than we should allow the people to define and order our essential foundational institutions in our society -- the first and primary of that being, what is a family," Bachman says.

Back in Glenwood, Cody Rogahn and Jonathan Yarbrough think it's inevitable that someday gay marriage will be allowed in Minnesota.

But Jonathan Yarbrough says don't look for them to head up the effort -- even though it's something they believe in.

"We do expect it to become legal in Minnesota. Whether it's next year or five years from now, we do expect some couples will get married in Massachusetts and challenge it in Minnesota. We're just not racing to become the first ones," says Yarbrough.

Yarbrough and Rogahn say they don't have the time or the resources to fight in court to have their marriage recognized in Minnesota.

But they say if several other same-sex couples want to band together and fight for the right to marry, they'll do what they can to help.

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