First group of same-sex couples wed in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa – The first same-sex couples tied the knot in Iowa yesterday as the controversial issue of gay marriage moved to the nation’s heartland. Melisa Keeton and Shelley Wolfe were declared ‘legally married’ by pastor Peg Esperanaza during a ceremony in front of the Polk County administrative offices in Des Moines. It didn’t take long before they were referring to one another as ‘wife.’ ‘It’s not very romantic is it?’ Melisa Keeton joked, referring to the location of the ceremony and the media attention. The couple was allowed to wed after getting a judge to waive the state’s three-day waiting period before marriages are deemed valid. The couple, who will share the last name Keeton, believed they were the first same-sex couple married in Polk County, and possibly the state, since the April 3 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage. The ruling made Iowa the third state to allow same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut. ‘I didn’t think it would be us,’ said Shelley Keeton, whose twin brother served as one of the couple’s witnesses. First in line at the Polk County office were Grant Lan, 35, and Andrew Mahoney-Lan, 32. The Windsor Heights couple also planned to seek a waiver that would let them marry Monday. ‘It’s huge to be here first,’ Mahoney-Lan said. Officials said the Polk County recorder’s office had received 57 marriage applications from same-sex couples by 11:30 a.m. Esperanaza, of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Des Moines, also married at least two other couples, all at no charge. She expressed surprise there weren’t more clerical ‘collars here from accepting churches.’ ‘God sent me here today, and I’ve said OK,’ she said. Esperanaza, 62, plans to marry her partner of nine years, Vicky Esperanaza, 54, in October. Alicia Zacher, 24, and Jessica Roach, 22, both of Des Moines, said they had a 4 p.m. appointment to get married if they could get a waiver. They said they wanted to get married as soon as possible after seeing how California voters reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage. ‘You just never know when they’ll try to take it away,’ Roach said. A handful of Iowa’s largest counties saw an initial rush, but foot traffic from same-sex couples began to slow toward midmorning. At the Pottawattamie County recorder’s office in western Iowa, Marilyn Hebing said about 10 couples filed their applications after the office opened, and more were slowly trickling in. ‘It was pretty exciting, they were cheering out there,’ she said of the early morning crowd. In eastern Iowa, Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter, Iowa’s only openly gay recorder, said that within the first half hour her office had accepted about a half dozen applications and had about 10 more couples waiting to file. Some waited outside under a tent and sipped coffee in what Painter called a ‘festive atmosphere.’ Painter said she and her partner plan to apply to be married this week. 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 them both. ‘Some judges, frankly, interpret it a lot more leniently than I do,’ she said of the law on waivers. ‘The ones that were presented this morning I didn’t believe to be an emergency or extraordinary circumstance.’ Scott County Recorder Rita Vargas said three same-sex couples applied for a marriage license by midday yesterday. One couple asked for a waiver, but a judge denied the request. The couple, 22-year-old Tearese Bomar, and 27-year-old Shamera Page, both of Davenport, said on the waiver form that they had waited a long time to have their union recognized and didn’t want to wait any longer, Vargas said. ‘The judge just determined they didn’t have enough extraordinary circumstances to grant that waiver,’ she said. Some conservative groups and lawmakers were accused of trying to recruit recorders to refuse the licenses. State agencies sent out information to recorders statewide last week saying they could be removed from their positions if they didn’t follow the law and issue the licenses. ‘I am quite optimistic that all 99 recorders will follow the rule of law and issue licenses,’ said Painter. The state Supreme Court’s unanimous and emphatic decision earlier this month made Iowa the third state – and first in the nation’s heartland – to allow same-sex marriage. Massachusetts and Connecticut allow gay couples to marry, and a Vermont law allowing gay marriage will take effect in September. The Iowa high court upheld an August 2007 decision by a Polk County District Court judge who found that a state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the constitutional right of equal protection. One couple was married in 2007 before the Polk County judge ordered a stay on his decision. Gay marriage opponents have no other legal options to appeal the case to the state or federal level because they were not parties to the lawsuit, and no federal issue was raised in the case. Their only recourse appears to be a constitutional amendment, which couldn’t get on the ballot until 2012 at the earliest. A constitutional convention could be called earlier, but is unlikely.