Gary Seronko and Curtis Rethmeir made a split-second decision Thursday to get married.
They rushed to the Polk County recorder's office and applied for a marriage license a half-hour after a Polk County judge ruled that Iowa law improperly prohibits same-sex couples from marrying.
Unless the judge agrees to delay implementation of his ruling, Seronko and Rethmeir next week will become the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Iowa.
"We just looked at each other and said, let's go," said Seronko.
District Judge Robert Hanson, citing what he said is the inherent unfairness of an Iowa law that says that "only a marriage between a male and a female is valid," ordered the Polk County recorder on Thursday to begin applying state marriage rules "in a gender neutral manner so as to permit same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage."
Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said his office intends to appeal the ruling, which for now applies only to Polk County.
County lawyers late Thursday formally asked Hanson to block implementation of his decision until the issue is resolved by the Iowa Supreme Court. A hearing on the request for a stay could come as early as today.
Meanwhile, the ruling has reinvigorated calls for an Iowa Constitution amendment outlawing same-sex marriages.
Amendments to the Iowa Constitution need to be approved by simple majorities in both the House and Senate in two successive sessions of the Legislature and then be approved by a simple majority of voters in the next general election.
Gov. Chet Culver said he plans "to follow this matter closely as it continues through the judicial system before determining whether any additional legislative actions are appropriate or necessary."
"While some Iowans may disagree on this issue, I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman," Culver said.
Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Democrat from Des Moines, advised people to "take a deep breath and calm down."
McCarthy noted that recent legislation clarified lawmakers' intent that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's likely that the issue will go before the Iowa Supreme Court and take months, or even more than a year, to be resolved, he said.
McCarthy warned that Iowans should expect to see marriage used in political campaigns. "I have no doubt there will be attempts to polarize, demonize and separate people on this issue," McCarthy said.
County officials said Seronko, 51, and Rethmeir, 29, were the only Polk County same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license Thursday. Under Iowa's mandatory three-business-day waiting period, they cannot use their license before Wednesday. The men spent Thursday afternoon quickly planning a wedding for next week.
"Now that it's legal at the moment, we thought we'd better get down there," Seronko said of the county recorder's office. "Even if they try to change it, I think we're still going to try to have a ceremony on Wednesday."
Hanson ruled that the law violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa Constitution.
His ruling came in a 2005 lawsuit brought by six gay and lesbian couples (meet the plaintiff couples) against then-Polk County Recorder Tim Brien. The judge rejected the state's arguments that a ban on same-sex marriages "promotes procreation," promotes child-rearing by different-sex couples, "promotes stability in opposite-sex relationships," conserves state and private resources, and promotes "the concept of fundamental marriage or the integrity of traditional marriage."
"This court has yet to hear any convincing argument as to how excluding same-sex couples from getting married promotes responsible reproduction in general or by different-sex couples in particular," Hanson wrote. "So far as this court can tell, (the law) operates only to harm same-sex couples and their children."
Camila Taylor, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, a gay-civil-rights organization that backed the lawsuit, said the judge's decision amounts to recognition that "gay and lesbian couples and their children deserve equal treatment from their governments just as any other couple."
Jennifer Barbouroske, a plaintiff from Iowa City, said she and her partner were "very excited" by the ruling but were too busy caring for their children Thursday evening to rush to Des Moines for their marriage license. "We waited for 17 years," she said. "Everything is relative."
Some Iowa politicians responded to the ruling by renewing calls for a constitutional amendment. Other politicians praised the ruling as a step toward statewide equality.
"I've got to believe it will probably be challenged, but I think it does say something about the need for equality in all our laws, including our marriage laws," said state Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, an Ames Democrat. "I don't think we should discriminate against any group."
House Minority Leader Chris Rants, a Sioux City Republican, vowed to take more steps to change Iowa law to prevent same-sex marriages.
"I can't believe this actually happened in Iowa," Rants said of Hanson's ruling. "What it means is that one person has decided they know better than the whole Legislature." (continue?)