DES MOINES, Iowa – Same-sex marriage was legal here for less than 24 hours before the county won a stay of a judge’s order Friday, a tiny window of opportunity that allowed two men to make history but left dozens of other couples disappointed after a frantic rush to the altar.
At 2 p.m. Thursday, Judge Robert Hanson ordered Polk County officials to accept marriage license requests from same-sex couples, but he granted the stay about 12:30 p.m. Friday. By then 27 same-sex couples had filed applications, but only Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan of Ames had made it official by getting married and returning the signed license to the courthouse in time.
In the frontyard of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, they become the only same-sex couple wed in the U.S. outside of Massachusetts, where some 8,000 such couples have tied the knot.
Rev. Mark Stringer, the pastor of the church, concluded the ceremony by saying, “This is a legal document and you are married.” The men then kissed and hugged.
“This is it. We’re married. I love you,” Fritz told McQuillan after the ceremony.
No more applications
No more same-sex weddings will be recognized, and no more applications will be accepted, pending Polk County’s appeal of Hanson’s ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, County Attorney John Sarcone said.
Hanson’s order had applied only to the county, but because any Iowa couple could apply for a license, people from across the state rushed to Des Moines, only to see fluorescent green signs explaining the stay and adding, “Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Accepting marriage licenses from same-sex couples has been illegal under a 1998 state law that permitted only a man and a woman to marry.
Hanson, ruling in a case filed by six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in 2005, declared the law unconstitutional Thursday. He ruled that 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.”
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 $5 and get a judge to sign a waiver.
Other couples, even those who got an early start Friday, were out of luck. Katy Farlow and Larissa Boeck, students at Iowa State University, said they got to the county recorder’s office at 5 a.m., then sat in lawn chairs and ate snacks until the office opened at 7:30 a.m. They got their application in but didn’t get their license.
“This might be our only chance,” Farlow said. “We already knew we were spending the rest of our lives together.”
Hanson granted the stay after Sarcone filed a motion saying his ruling should be put on hold because lifting the ban was far reaching and would likely be overturned by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Hanson wrote that County Attorney Sarcone’s arguments “do indeed constitute good cause for the issuance of the requested stay.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Dennis Johnson had argued that the county’s appeal probably would not succeed and disputed its contention that a reversal would throw any licenses issued into legal doubt.
He said a marriage license is valid until one or both of the spouses seek to have it dissolved or one dies, “regardless of changes in the law that may occur after the couple marries.”
The Iowa Supreme Court can refer the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals, consider the matter itself or decide not to hear the case. The flurry of activity in the courts prompted a quick response from some lawmakers. House Republican leader Christopher Rants called on Democrats, who hold a majority of seats in the Legislature, to respond.
“The Democrats should call a special session immediately to take up such issues and to introduce a marriage amendment for Iowa’s constitution,” he said in a statement. “House Democrats need to start leading or get out of the way.”
Language defining marriage as being between a man and a woman has been written into the constitutions of 27 states, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. Iowa’s was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature in 1998.