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Dozens of gays heading to Iowa to say ‘I do’

Dozens of gay couples have flocked to Iowa from elsewhere in the Midwest since the door to same-sex marriage was opened, and some counties have seen more interest from outside the state than within.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dozens of gay couples have flocked to Iowa from elsewhere in the Midwest since the door to same-sex marriage was opened there this week, and some counties have seen more interest from outside the state than within.

Some couples from neighboring states where voters have passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage plan to move to Iowa so their unions will be recognized.

"It's a whole different world when you cross the river," said Troy Fienhold-Haasis of Omaha, Neb., who plans to move with his partner, Jason, across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa, this fall.

Fienhold-Haasis said the decision to move is about more than just tax and cost-of-living issues — though those factored heavily into the couple's decision. When he had emergency gall bladder surgery last year, Fienhold-Haasis said he worried his partner wouldn't be able to see him in the hospital.

"In Iowa, with a marriage, those questions are taken care of," he said.

The couple plans to apply for a marriage license in Pottawattamie County, where more Nebraskans than Iowans sought same-sex marriage applications in the first three days they were available. Twenty-three of the 42 applications Monday through Wednesday came from Nebraska, and one was mailed in from Oklahoma.

The story was similar in other counties at the state's edges. On Monday and Tuesday, five of the 14 Dubuque County applications came from couples in nearby Wisconsin, and 12 of the 38 applications in Scott County came from across the Mississippi River in Illinois. Both applications filed Monday in Worth County were from Minnesotans, and Missouri couples filed all four applications that day in Decatur County.

Out-of-staters accounted for only five of the 95 applications received Monday through Wednesday in central Polk County, which includes Des Moines.

Neighbors back bans
One Republican legislator from the Scott County community of Bettendorf said the influx from other states was nothing to celebrate.

"I feel sorry for those states where they will be going to," said state Sen. David Hartsuch. "In those states, many of them have made their will known and ... protect traditional marriage."

Four of Iowa's six neighbors — Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin — have approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

"At this point, the Supreme Court of Iowa is imposing its will on other states," Hartsuch said, adding that the issue will be a galvanizing point for Republicans in the elections next fall.

But Fienhold-Haasis said Nebraska and other border states are losing out.

"One state is going to get tax dollars and one state is losing them," he said.

Encouraged by Iowa
The Iowa Supreme Court on April 3 upheld a lower court ruling that rejected a state law restricting marriage to a union between a man and woman. The decision took effect Monday, prompting a flood of applications from same-sex couples. Some couples got judges to waive the state's three-day waiting period and were married in front of government offices.

"You can't undervalue the spiritual value of it," said Jim Kieffer, who moved to Council Bluffs with his partner in March, in part due to a belief that Iowa would legalize gay marriage. They plan to get married next week.

Kieffer, formerly of Omaha, said concerns about inheritance taxes and health care decisions for his partner helped him make up his mind.

"Hetero couples don't have to worry about that," Kieffer said.

Gay and lesbian couples in other Midwestern states are encouraged by Iowa's decision, even if they don't plan to move there, said Katie Belanger, legislative director for the gay-rights advocacy group FAIR Wisconsin.

'Moving to obtain equal rights'
Massachusetts and Connecticut allow gay marriage, and Vermont has passed a law that will take effect in September, but the decision in Iowa is more important to Midwesterners, she said.

"It's not just a state on the coast with a reputation for being extremely liberal and progressive. They're just like the people in Wisconsin," Belanger said.

Melanie Rexroad is hoping gay-marriage rights spread in the region.

The 36-year-old and her partner, Samantha Gillen, had twins two years ago in Kentucky, but had decided before the boys were born to move to Minneapolis. Kentucky doesn't allow same-sex parental adoption, and Rexroad wanted to find a more "diverse" community.

Rexroad said she would rather wait for Minnesota to allow same-sex marriage than pick up her life once more.

"We shouldn't have to keep moving to obtain equal rights," Rexroad said. "I believe it can happen here."