By Amy Lorentzen
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
DES MOINES, April 27 -- Same-sex couples in Iowa began holding hastily planned weddings Monday as the state became the third to allow gay marriage.
Within hours of a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage taking effect, several same-sex couples had exchanged vows on the steps of the Polk County Administrative Building.
"It's not very romantic, is it?" Melisa Keeton joked, referring to the location of the ceremony and the media attention, before marrying Shelley Wolfe.
The couple were allowed to wed after getting a judge to waive the state's three-day waiting period. The waiver was granted after the couple said the wait was stressful to Keeton, who is pregnant and due in August.
The couple, who will go by the last name Keeton, were married by the Rev. Peg Esperanza of the Church of the Holy Spirit. Esperanza, a lesbian who plans to marry her partner in October, later solemnized the weddings of at least two other couples.
On April 3, the Iowa justices upheld a lower court ruling that rejected a state law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. With the decision, Iowa joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing same-sex marriages. A Vermont law legalizing gay marriage will take effect in September.
A handful of Iowa's largest counties saw a rush of marriage applications from same-sex couples Monday. Officials said the Polk County Recorder's Office had received 82 such applications by 4 p.m.
One was filed by Alicia Zacher, 24, and Jessica Roach, 22. They later got a waiver and planned to get married as soon as possible, noting that California voters reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage last year.
"You just never know when they'll try to take it away," Roach said.
Some judges refused to issue waivers to same-sex couples.
In Cerro Gordo County, District Court Judge Colleen Weiland said she was presented with two applications from same-sex couples and denied both.
"Some judges, frankly, interpret it a lot more leniently than I do," she said of Iowa's law concerning waivers. "The ones that were presented this morning I didn't believe to be an emergency or extraordinary circumstance."
A poll by the University of Iowa taken just before the high court's ruling showed 26 percent of Iowans support gay marriage. That number rises to more than 50 percent when people were asked whether they supported either gay marriage or civil unions.
Bryan English of the Iowa Family Policy Center, which opposes same-sex marriage, said the legislature and Gov. Chet Culver (D) had put some "poor county recorders in an awfully tough position today" by not working to block the court's ruling from taking effect.
The group wants the state to begin the multiyear process of amending Iowa's constitution to overturn the court decision.
Culver and majority Democrats have refused, which Republicans said will hurt Democrats in the 2010 elections.
The only recourse available to gay-marriage opponents in Iowa appears to be a constitutional amendment, which cannot get on the ballot until 2012 at the earliest. A constitutional convention could be called earlier but is unlikely.