Des Moines women marry following court decision

Posted on 29 Apr 2009 at 12:02am
By Amy Lorentzen Associated Press

Despite rumors of recorders refusing to issue licenses over religious objections, no glitches reported in first day

DES MOINES, Iowa — A pastor has married two Des Moines women on the steps of the Polk County administrative building, less than two hours after an Iowa Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage in the state.

Pastor Pat Esperanaz married Melisa Keeton and Shelley Wolfe just before 10 a.m. Monday, April 27 during a ceremony under cloudy skies where they were pronounced "legally married." They have already begun referring to one another as wife.

"It’s not very romantic is it?" Melisa Keeton joked about the location and media attention at the ceremony.

They will both share the last name Keeton.

The couple believes they were the first same-sex couple married in Polk County, and possibly the state since an April 3 Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalized gay marriage.

"I didn’t think it would be us," said Shelley Keeton, whose twin brother was on hand to serve as one of the witnesses to the ceremony.

The marriage came an hour after the women applied for a marriage license, then found a judge who would sign a waiver from Iowa’s three-day waiting period.

In Des Moines, about a dozen gay and lesbian couples gathered outside the Polk County administrative building to wait in the rain before the recorder’s office opened.

First in line was 35-year-old Grant Lan and his partner, 32-year-old Andrew Mahoney-Lan, of Windsor Heights.

"It’s huge to be here first," Mahoney-Lan said.

They planned to ask a judge for a waiver and get married Monday.

Alicia Zacher, 24, and her 22-year-old fiance Jessica Roach, both of Des Moines, said they have a 4 p.m. appointment to get married if they can get a waiver. They want to get married immediately 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.

At the Pottawattamie County recorder’s office in western Iowa, a woman who answered the phone said it was too busy to talk and cheers could be heard in the background as same-sex couples waited to file marriage licenses.

In eastern Iowa, Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter, Iowa’s only openly gay recorder, said when she saw the court’s declaration, "we rolled open our windows and we’ve been busy."

She said that within the first half hour they had accepted about a half dozen applications and had about 10 more couples waiting to file. Some waited outside on the street under a tent and sipped coffee in what Painter called a "festive atmosphere."

Painter and her partner plan to file for a marriage application this week.

Rumors have surfaced over the past week that some recorders would refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples over conflicts with their personal beliefs. 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 don’t follow the law and issue the licenses.

"There’s a lot of people fishing around out there, but we’ll see," said Painter. "I am quite optimistic that all 99 recorders will follow the rule of law and issue licenses."

Marilyn Dopheide, the Carroll County recorder and president of the Iowa County Recorder’s Association, said that within about an hour of the recorders’ offices opening there had been no problems with licenses being issued.

The Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous and emphatic decision on April 3 made Iowa the third state to allow same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut. For six months last year, California’s high court allowed gay marriage before voters banned it in November. Vermont has passed a law that will take effect in September.

In its decision, the Iowa Supreme 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 rights 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 there is no federal issue 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.

Iowa’s same-sex marriage case had worked its way through the courts since 2005, when Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization, filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay and lesbian couples in Iowa.

Iowa has a history of being in the forefront on social issues. It was among the first states to legalize interracial marriage and to allow married women to own property. It was also the first state to admit a woman to the bar to practice law and was a leader in school desegregation.

Associated Press writers Nigel Duara and Melanie S. Welte in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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