Hennepin County reported 38 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses by the end of the business day. Ramsey County had 14 applications and Washington County had two.

When Harvey Zuckman and Phil Oxman first met at a Minneapolis bar in 1975, they never imagined that they would one day be among the first Minnesota gay couples to apply for a marriage license.

"We never really thought this would happen in our lifetime. We just didn't," Zuckman, a 62-year-old computer store owner, said Thursday.

Zuckman and Oxman were the third couple in line at a Hennepin County service center in downtown Minneapolis when it began taking applications at 7:30 a.m. Thursday. They were planning a small Aug. 1 wedding — the first date it can happen under the new law — with a ceremony to follow early next year at their synagogue.

"No gifts. We don't want gifts," said Oxman, a 66-year-old psychologist.

Minnesota is the first Midwestern state to legalize gay marriage by legislative vote, and the third nationwide in recent weeks, joining Rhode Island and Delaware. The lawmakers' vote in May came a little more than six months after voters defeated an amendment that would have banned gay marriage in the state constitution.

Hennepin County reported 38 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses by the end of the business day. Ramsey County had 14 applications and Washington County had two. In Pipestone County in southwestern Minnesota, which has been accepting applications since Monday, Recorder Mary Ann DeGroot said one couple signed up immediately.

"I've been issuing marriage licenses for 29 years. But that was a moment I'll remember," DeGroot said. "It was a historic day."

A recent analysis by the state Department of Management and Budget estimated that about 5,000 Minnesota gay couples would get married in the first year under the new law.

In Hennepin County, the couples who showed up early had in most cases been together a number of years. Most said their relationships were already identical to marriages in many ways but that they welcomed the chance to solidify their legal rights and secure the cultural benefits of civil marriage.

"We've been together 15 years," said Gentry Holloway, a 46-year-old school nurse who applied for a license with her 50-year-old partner, Martha Whitaker, an airline pilot. "We've been married in our hearts and minds that entire time. But this makes it official."

Several of the couples said a marriage certificate helps in dealing with a partner's medical care, end-of-life decisions and other legal matters, solidifies parental rights in the case of couples with children, has tax advantages and bestows greater societal legitimacy.

Holloway and Whitaker brought their sons, 10-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Josh. Asked if he thought a real marriage between his moms would change things around the house, Jack said he thought "it will mostly be the same."

Jeff Isaacson and Al Giraud, a bank analyst and a corporate trainer from Minneapolis, were first in line at the downtown service center after arriving at about 6 a.m. They said they hoped to be among the couples married by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak just after midnight on Aug. 1, in a large ceremony planned at City Hall. In St. Paul, Mayor Chris Coleman plans to preside over weddings at the same time at the Como Park Conservatory.

A couple for 11 years, Isaacson and Giraud said it's been an adjustment as they navigate an institution long denied to them.

"We just changed our Facebook status to 'engaged.' It had been 'in a relationship,'" said Giraud, 41. Isaacson, 48, added: "We're used to referring to each other as our 'partner,' so we're going to have to get used to 'husband.'"

Zuckman and Oxman said they've always celebrated their relationship on the anniversary of the day they first met at Sutton's Place, a long-gone downtown Minneapolis establishment that was among the city's first gay bars.

"I was so excited to meet him because I had just figured I was the only Jewish person who was gay," Zuckman said. He had recently come out to his parents.

"My parents were not that comfortable with it. I think my getting in a relationship really helped with that," Zuckman said. He paused and briefly choked up, then said: "I wish they could be with us today to see where we are now."