First Gay Couple Legally Married In Iowa

Friday, August 31st 2007, 11:54 am
By: News On 6

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ A minister married two men outside his Iowa home Friday morning, sealing the state's first legal same-sex wedding. Less than 24 hours earlier, a judge had thrown out Iowa's ban on gay marriage.

The Rev. Mark Stringer declared college students Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan legally wed.

``This is it. We're married. I love you,'' Fritz told McQuillan after the ceremony on the front lawn of the Unitarian minister's home in Des Moines.

On Thursday, Polk County Judge Robert Hanson ruled 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.

The ruling cleared the way for gay couples across the state to apply for marriage licenses in Polk County, and more than a dozen had by Friday morning.

The window of opportunity could be narrow, though.

County attorney John Sarcone promised a quick appeal, and he immediately asked Hanson for a stay that would prevent gays and lesbians from getting marriage licenses until the appeal was resolved. A hearing on the stay request is likely next week, said Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization.

In the meantime, the applications began rolling in.

The marriage license approval process normally takes three business days, but couples can pay a $5 fee and get a judge to sign a waiver allowing them to skip the waiting period.

That's what Iowa State University students Fritz and McQuillan did.

``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,'' Fritz said. ``Maybe the chance won't come again.''

Friday morning, with the waiver and marriage license in hand, Stringer married the two men, concluding the ceremony by saying, ``This is a legal document and you are married.''

The two students then kissed.

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,'' Culver 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, had argued that 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.

``We're very disappointed and will pursue to the next level of courts,'' said Rachel Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, which opposes gay marriage.

Friday morning, the county Web site that explains how to apply for a marriage license still began with the words, ``Marriages in Iowa are between a male and a female ...,'' but Deputy County Recorder Trish Umthun still expected a rush of applications from same-sex couples through the day.

Katy Farlow and Larissa Boeck, both Iowa State University students like Fritz and McQuillan, were waiting in lawn chairs when the office opened at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

``This might be our only chance,'' Farlow said. ``We already knew we were spending the rest of our lives together.''

David Curtis Rethmeier, 29, and Gary Allen Seronko, 51, had reached the office before it close on Thursday and filed their application. Rethmeier was listed as ``bride'' and Seronko as ``groom''.

``I started to cry because we so badly want to be able to be protected if something happens to one of us,'' Rethmeier said.

Hanson ruled Thursday 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,'' she said.