PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Same-sex marriages began in Rhode Island on Thursday, as local officials for the first time issued marriage licenses to gay couples who wish to wed in the state.

Gay marriage became legal in Rhode Island and Minnesota at 12:01 a.m., bringing the number of states allowing same-sex marriage to 13.

Officials around Rhode Island began issuing licenses when offices opened at 8:30 a.m., including in Newport and Providence.

Kent Stetson and Luis Astudillo were among a handful of couples that came to Providence City Hall first thing to get a license. They planned to get married later in the day, on a street in downtown where they took a memorable walk on their first date 12 years ago.

“We are securing our rights today. We would have been married years ago if we could,” Stetson said.

In Newport, a couple that have been together for 41 years, Federico Santi and John Gacher, were previously joined in a civil union, so they were immediately married after getting their license. They had no plans for an extravagant ceremony, saying that in their eyes, their marriage began in August 1972.

“It’s certainly not going to change our lives, but it’s going to change the lives of lots of young people, and that’s what we are really proud of: that now they have the opportunity to get married if they choose to,” Santi said.

Newport City Clerk Kathleen Silvia, who issued the license and has known Santi for 28 years, called Thursday “a day of smooching” in Rhode Island.

In communities including Cranston and Providence, a small number of protesters gathered outside city halls but were far outnumbered by supporters of gay marriage.

The state’s new law will automatically recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

States like Massachusetts and California saw long lines and scores of weddings on the day gay marriages began. But with gay marriage already the law in the rest of New England, town clerks and advocates who fought for the new law predict a relatively calm day.

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, said many couples plan to obtain marriage licenses for weddings later in the year while others are waiting until next year. He said he didn’t expect many weddings on Thursday.

“Because of our proximity to states that have had the freedom to marry — Massachusetts and Connecticut — we have a large number of couples that are already married,” Sullivan said.

At least one high-profile wedding is planned for Thursday. State Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, got into politics after being an early advocate for same-sex marriage. He and longtime partner Tony Caparco were married in Canada in 2006 but plan a second wedding Thursday. House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, plans to preside over the ceremony in front of hundreds of invited guests.

Karen Yetter and Karin Marchessault plan to wait until February to get married — on the 14th anniversary of their relationship. The North Providence women considered getting married in another state but decided to wed in Rhode Island when the law passed this year. They plan a ceremony with about 120 guests.

“We didn’t want to give in and do it somewhere else,” Yetter said. “Now we’re finally going to get the things we fought so hard for. We’re about to send out the save-the-dates.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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