SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota — Gay South Dakotans exulted Friday as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples in America have the constitutional right to marry and county officials across the state began issuing marriage licenses to all.
Though the nation's high court set a three-week window for the losers to challenge its ruling, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley cleared the way for same-sex couples, saying counties could issue licenses as they wish. The state Department of Health announced Friday afternoon that it had updated its system and issued gender-neutral marriage licenses to county officials, paving the way for couples to marry.
"I'm honored to be a part of this moment," said Misty Collins, a 37-year-old Rapid City woman who married Melissa Eidson on Friday after becoming one of the first same-sex couples in the state to receive a marriage license.
The couple will soon move to Arizona, but first wanted to marry in the state in which they met and have been dating for seven years.
"It was a surreal moment; a very amazing moment," she said. "The timing is perfect."
South Dakota has had a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage since 2006, when voters in the state approved the amendment with about 52 percent of the vote. Last year, six couples, led by Minneapolis attorney Josh Newville, sued the state to challenge the ban.
Jenny and Nancy Rosenbrahn, two Rapid City women in their 70s, became the face of the lawsuit in the media. The two were married in Minneapolis last year and were visiting the Twin Cities on Friday when Nancy Rosenbrahn saw a Facebook update flash across her cellphone.
"Oh my gosh, it's legal — we're married," she recalled saying Friday as the couple drove back to Rapid City for a celebration.
The lawsuit filed by Newville is on hold at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. The attorney said he didn't anticipate any delay from the 8th Circuit judges affirming that gay marriage should be legal in the state and said he would ask the 8th Circuit on Friday to issue a ruling on his case.
Newville, who is gay, was ecstatic.
"As a lawyer for them, I can't tell you how happy that I know they are," he said. "But as a gay man, who went into the practice of law specifically because of this issue, I'm overwhelmed."
South Dakota's congressional delegation, all Republicans, criticized the high court's ruling. U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem said they all believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman.
"Today's ruling is a blow to state's rights," Rounds said. "I believe states have a constitutional role in setting their own policy on marriage. Marriage is between a man and a woman, and traditional families play an important role in the fabric of our society."
After the news broke Friday morning, some members of the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community began organizing impromptu celebrations while others headed to their local government centers.
Bob Weldland, an art education coordinator in Sioux Falls, said his partner proposed to him Friday for a second time. The two are not yet legally married but they held a ceremony at a church in Minnesota in 2010 and Weldland refers to his partner as his husband.
Weldland and his partner plan to renew their vows among friends and family this August and marry according to "government standards, and not just by God."
"He texted me: 'So, do you want to marry me again?'"
Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano and James Nord contributed to this report.