Two men sealed the state’s first legal same-sex marriage with a kiss Friday morning, less than 24 hours after a judge threw out Iowa’s ban on gay marriage and about two hours before he put his own ruling on hold.
It was a narrow window of opportunity.
Polk County Judge Robert Hanson temporarily cleared the way for same-sex couples across the state to apply for marriage licenses in the county when he ruled Thursday that Iowa’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed marriage only between a man and a woman, violated the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of six gay couples who had sued.
County attorney John Sarcone promised a quick appeal and asked Hanson to stay his ruling until that appeal was resolved.
Brief window of opportunity
A dozen gay and lesbian couples were waiting at the county recorder’s office when it opened at 7:30 Friday morning.
“This might be our only chance,” said Katy Farlow, who waited in a lawn chair with fellow Iowa State University student Larissa Boeck.
Just after 11 a.m., about 20 gay couples had finished applying for marriage licenses when Recorder Julie Haggerty announced she could no longer accept applications. Hanson told The Associated Press about an hour and half later that he had formally stayed his ruling.
The stay meant the recorder’s office was not permitted to accept any more marriage applications from gay couples until the Iowa Supreme Court rules on the county’s appeal.
Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan were among the lucky few to get their application through.
The marriage license approval process normally takes three business days, but Fritz and McQuillan took advantage of a loophole that allows couples to skip the waiting period if they pay a $5 fee and get a judge to sign a waiver.
Friday morning, the Rev. Mark Stringer declared the two legally married in a wedding on Unitarian minister’s front lawn in Des Moines.
“This is it. We’re married. I love you,” Fritz told McQuillan after the ceremony.
Fritz explained their hurry: “We’re both in our undergrad programs and we thought maybe we’d put it off until applying at graduate school, but when this opportunity came up, we thought maybe we wouldn’t get the opportunity again.”
Lawmakers may take action
Republican House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, said the ruling illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
“I can’t believe this is happening in Iowa,” Rants said. “I guarantee you there will be a vote on this issue come January,” when the Legislature convenes.
Gov. Chet Culver left open the possibility of state action.
“While some Iowans may disagree on this issue, I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” the governor said.
Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, and nine other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples. Nearly all states have defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, and 27 states have such wording in their constitutions, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Dennis Johnson, a lawyer for the six gay couples who sued after being denied marriage licenses in 2005, said Iowa has a long history of aggressively protecting civil rights in cases of race and gender. The Defense of Marriage Act contradicts previous rulings regarding civil rights and is simply “mean spirited,” he said.
Roger J. Kuhle, an assistant Polk County attorney, argued that the issue was not for a judge to decide.
'It's pure elation'
Hanson ruled that the state law banning same-sex marriage must be nullified, severed and stricken from the books, and the marriage laws “must be read and applied in a gender neutral manner so as to permit same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage ...”
“This is kind of the American Dream,” said plaintiff Jen BarbouRoske, of Iowa City. “I’m still feeling kind of shaky. It’s pure elation. I just cannot believe it.”
Kate Varnum of Cedar Rapids, another plaintiff, said she was elated but expected more legal battles: “I don’t expect this to be the last one.