A Quiet Day in Iowa as Same-Sex Couples Line Up to Marry
The large, angry protests some had imagined never materialized in this city, the state’s most populous. Neither did the crowds of couples from all over the nation that some feared might create a carnival-like atmosphere captured in earlier images from other places.
By noon, no protesters could be found outside the marriage license office. Extra sheriff’s deputies assigned to keep order milled around the Polk County recorder’s office, looking bored. And an early-morning line of dozens of same-sex couples waiting to apply for licenses had dwindled into a few people discussing recent rainfall patterns.
Given polls showing that most Iowans object to same-sex marriage, Shawn Regenold and Steve Kearney of West Des Moines had feared a tense, perhaps overwhelming scene. Thus they decided not to bring their children — ages 2, 3 and 4 — as they sought their license. Instead, they found a quiet building where, every so often, couples receiving licenses burst into rounds of applause and where, on the front steps, a local pastor married a few smiling couples as television cameras rolled.
“People in Iowa tend to get real hot about things,” said Maggie Grace, a neighbor of the West Des Moines couple who had come to fulfill the witness requirement for their license. “And then they go on about their way.”
Officials in some of the state’s 98 other counties described similarly low-key scenes on the day Iowa became the latest state to permit same-sex marriage and the first in the Midwest to do so. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled this month that a decade-old law prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the State Constitution.
In Davenport, talk of a morning protest came and went. In Iowa City, an opponent of same-sex marriage delivered a petition signed by eight people urging the local county recorder there not to grant licenses. Similar petitions, some with many more signatures, were delivered across the state, though the Iowa attorney general has said recorders must abide by the court’s decision and provide the marriage licenses.
Protests were more pronounced in some rural areas. About 50 people waited outside the Wayne County Courthouse urging the recorder there, Angela Horton, not to allow the marriages.
“Speaking for myself personally, it has put me in a difficult position,” Ms. Horton said. “But I am going to uphold the law.” She noted that by midafternoon no same-sex couples had sought licenses at her office.
Chuck Hurley, the leader of the Iowa Family Policy Center, which opposes such marriages, said he and others were distressed that state lawmakers had adjourned for the year on Sunday without agreeing to begin the process of amending the State Constitution to stop the unions. Mr. Hurley, who delivered a petition with thousands of signatures to the recorder here early Monday, told reporters that more people had not turned out to object because they were busy “raising children and going to work.”
“People I associate with are very much law-abiding people,” he said. “They’re not going to chain themselves to their recorders’ offices.”
Iowa joins Connecticut and Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage, and Vermont will follow in September. California also allowed them for about six months until voters there rejected the idea in November.
The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on April 3, which surprised many here, spurred a new set of technical, philosophical and legal questions, which public officials and others have been racing to sort through over the past three weeks.
State officials were rushing to change the wording on marriage license applications and other official documents to reflect the change. The forms now refer to “Party A” and “Party B” and give applicants an option to describe themselves as “bride,” “groom” or “spouse.”
Though the court’s ruling had no direct effect on religious leaders, many must decide whether to marry same-sex couples. Members of some denominations are divided on the matter.
By the end of Monday, more than 200 couples had applied and paid $35 for marriage licenses in Iowa. (No statewide count was available.) Some came from neighboring states like Illinois and Nebraska, officials said. Iowa requires a three-day waiting period for applicants to marry, though some couples received waivers from judges and were married by Monday afternoon.
Melisa Keeton, 31, and Shelley Wolfe Keeton, 38, let out a cheer when a clerk here offered congratulations and their certificate of marriage. The couple had raced among the recorder’s office, a judge’s chamber for a waiver and the front of the government building where the Rev. Peg Esperanza of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Des Moines offered them the “short” vows she carried with her.
Ms. Keeton said the couple did not wish to wait even three days because she was in the final trimester of a difficult pregnancy. The couple had parked in a lot away from the recorder’s office, they said, in case there were crowds or protesters or “hoopla.”“Who would have known we didn’t need to?” Ms. Wolfe Keeton said.