ST. PAUL - Hundreds of people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate stood side by side throughout the Minnesota Capitol waiting for the House's decision Thursday.
They found themselves next to people with opposite opinions on the controversial issue as they crowded around televisions showing the debate and packed the second floor outside the House chamber. But they found ways to get along.
"It's pretty exciting," retired Woodbury pastor Doug Nicholas said. Nicholas said it was interesting to be at the Capitol with so many people on both sides of the issue, who were "for the most part civil and respectful."
The building was filled with an estimated 1,000 to 1,200 people who started streaming in hours before debate started.
Many said they hoped their presence would help lawmakers, and others watching and in the crowd, to think about their side of the issue.
"I think this is the right thing to do," Nicholas said.
Deb Johnson of Cottage Grove said she felt compelled to travel to the Capitol to try to stop the bill from being passed.
"Our children deserve to be protected," she said, adding kids need to be raised by both a father and mother. She said she would be disappointed in lawmakers who voted for the same-sex marriage bill.
"It's really important to defend and uphold marriage," Ron Keller of Faribault said. "I'm not trying to discriminate against anyone."
Keller said he wished there were more opponents at the Capitol on Thursday, but said many of those against the same-sex marriage bill are from rural areas and likely could not make the trip.
Keller said he is a farmer and should be home planting, but he came to the Capitol for the vote because "it's that important."
Many of the gay marriage opponents left before the final vote, turning the gathering into a celebration after the bill was approved. As the 75-59 tally appeared on television screens, cheers echoed throughout the Capitol building. People hugged, cried and jumped up and down and chanted "thank you."
"I feel like I'm a part of history," Eagan resident Shelley Medernach said after the vote. "I'm elated. I'm just very grateful."
Margaret Schow of Richfield said she came to St. Paul to pray for the legislators as they debated and voted on same-sex marriage, hoping they would reject the bill.
Gail Crispin of south Minneapolis added she was there to "stand up for what's right." Both held bright pink signs that read "vote no."
Many opponents gathered for a prayer before the session began Thursday.
Andrew Jaye of Isanti, a same-sex marriage supporter, said he wanted to be at the Capitol to see the vote and back lawmakers.
"It's historic," he said. He said he understood that voting for the bill would be difficult for some legislators, so "we want to support them."