A wedding, finallyPublished 4:30am Monday, August 5, 2013 Updated 6:32am Monday, August 5, 2013
Theirs is a classic love story: They met, became close friends and fell in love. But on Thursday morning, as they stood with their feet in the water of Blanche Lake, that story made history.
A few hours after 42 same-sex couples were married in the early morning at City Hall in Minneapolis, Mat Buckingham and Richard Overby said their vows on lakeshore Overby’s family has owned since 1955. They were the first and only same-sex couple in Otter Tail County whose application became legal on the day Minnesota’s marriage-equality law took effect.
“When we saw this opportunity here in Minnesota, in a place that has so much meaning for us, all the pieces just felt like they were really coming together quite quickly,” Buckingham said. “It just suddenly became apparent that this was possible for us.”
Residents of Wichita, Kan., the couple started a life together after meeting more than 20 years ago. During that time, they have committed their lives to one another as they’ve met family, given support in times of loss and care during illness and injury.
But, like many same-sex couples, the two faced a number of difficulties in their life together. In an effort to gain the same legal protection as married couples, they signed wills and assigned power of attorney. After Overby made a trip to the emergency room 15 years ago, however, the couple realized it wasn’t the same.
“It was a huge wake-up call for us, that we were not in a good place with regards to being able to make decisions for each other, or having any sort of protections or rights,” Buckingham said. “We decided at that point we would do, legally, what we could … Even at that, there were still a lot of missing pieces.”
After the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down in June, the couple gave serious consideration to marriage. They watched as friends traveled to states like Iowa and New York and saw their ceremonies — brought about in response to the same legal needs the couple faced — turn into romantic and spiritual endeavors.
That created the dichotomy Overby and Buckingham said they felt as their quest for legal equality became, at the a same time, a celebration of life-long love and acceptance.
“At first, like our friends, it was civil action perfunctory,” Overby said. “As we got further into it, the romance, the spititual importance, the social importance of standing up and declaring to the world that you’re a married couple, just became more and more engaging.”
The couple was challenged with a number of social and personal obstacles as well. With the AIDS epidemic a major concern for the gay community as they started dating, they lost close friends to the illness as a social stigma furried around them. Buckingham admitted that, even just a decade ago, a long-term relationship, let alone marriage, seemed nearly impossible.
“When we first came together, the gay community was beset with a deathly plague,” Overby said. “We had a plague and social chaos, and in all of that we still got this great gift of love together, which, to me, is proof that good has a pretty good chance of triumphing over evil.”
While the couple said they have always had a large community of support with friends, siblings and relatives, Buckingham said his parents haven’t been as accepting of his relationship. His father’s call Thursday, however, told him how much his parents love him and have accepted his life.
“The very first call I got was from my dad,” Buckingham said. “He was — I could just hear it in his voice — he was excited. He was happy.”
Both Buckingham and Overby said the overwhelming support locally and across the state brought a wealth of happiness as well.
“I think there were a lot of people who were as excited about this as we were, and that surprised me,” Overby said. “The big thing is that it’s wonderful to see a positive reaction that goes so deep.”
“When it comes to your family and acceptance, that really, for most people, it’s the core of who you are,” Buckingham added.
But, by the end of the day, even with all the history, social significance, and all they’ve overcome, the couple came to see their marriage in a more typical light. They reminisced about the ceremony later — the setting, the breakfast they served to their guests, even the “tingly” feeling they both felt in their feet while holding hands in the water — though, that turned out to be minnows nibbling at their toes.
“That moment for me, with the sun coming up and Richard there, in a place that we’ve spent some really great times together and I know is so deep-rooted with him, it just was just magic,” Buckingham said.