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'I'm just over the moon': Community of support gathers for wedding of gay Fargo restaurateurs

Attendees take in the wedding of Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser on Friday at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead. Nick Wagner / The Forum1 / 4
Erbstoesser looks up toward his now husband, Jones, during the procession of the couple’s wedding Friday at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead. Nick Wagner / The Forum2 / 4
Jones and Erbstoesser greet guests at their reception at the Ramada Plaza and Suites in Fargo. Nick Wagner / The Forum3 / 4
Monte Jones, left, walks with husband Jerry Erbstoesser following the couple’s wedding ceremony Friday at the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead. Nick Wagner / The Forum4 / 4

MOORHEAD – As cars rolled by and honked with approval, Monte Jones and Jerry Erbstoesser wed Friday in front of a huge crowd of guests in the afternoon heat in the courtyard of the Rourke Art Museum.

The wedding was going to be a small, intimate affair, Jones said, but grew into something much bigger as word spread that the two prominent restaurateurs were tying the knot after 11 years together.

After sending out invitations, the two got an “amazing” response from the community. More than 200 people asked to join the wedding after hearing about it, and the pair happily obliged.

“We just can’t believe the support we’re getting,” Erbstoesser said.

It’s a complete change from the Fargo-Moorhead Jones knew from his childhood. He left the area for New York City because he knew from a young age that he was gay and wouldn’t be accepted.

The crowd at the Rourke was raucous and accepting. Even passers-by stopped to watch the ceremony through the museum’s gate and passing cars honked their horns. 

The wedding came a week after the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage legalization in Minnesota, and at least seventy-three same-sex couples have wed in Clay County so far.

But for many guests this was the first gay marriage they’d attended.

Margaret Anderson has known the couple since they got together (“They met in a parking lot in Cash Wise,” she recalled) and Erbstoesser for 25 years. It was the first gay wedding she and her husband attended, and they attested plainly to the fact that there wasn’t much of a difference.

“Really not; I was surprised at that,” she said, and her husband concurred.

“Seems pretty much the same to me,” said Tina Frogner, who was also attending a gay wedding for the first time with her husband, Don Frogner, a cousin of Jones.

“I’m going to make a toast to the Minnesota legislature that made this happen,” Don Frogner said.

The Marines veteran said he used to hold prejudice toward gays, but his attitude changed after watching his cousin and Erbstoesser’s relationship grow over more than a decade.

“This is America,” he said. “Everyone should have the chance to have no regrets.”

After being married, the party moved across state lines to the reception at the Ramada Plaza Suites in Fargo, where, technically, Jones and Erbstoesser were no longer legally married.

Carol Johnson, general manager of the hotel, is a colleague of Jones, who manages the hotel restaurant.

She said that hosting the wedding was a joy, and that there was “no difference at all” in setting up a same-sex wedding reception.

Well, there was one difference.

“This one is just special,” Johnson said, “because there’s just so much love and support for two great people.”

The packed Crystal Ballroom included guests from as far as New York, Colorado, Georgia and Canada.

“It’s wonderful that they are able to legally have this,” said Shawn Hanson, who flew in from Atlanta, Ga., where gay marriage is banned.

For their part, Jones and Erbstoesser were crying, smiling and overall ecstatic.

“I am just over the moon,” said Jones, dressed in an ornate white and black floral jacket and silver ascot.

Erbstoesser, wearing a tuxedo with a silver tie, quipped that the community support turned it into something larger.

“It’s way beyond us,” he said.