A Polk County judge on Friday issued a stay of his ruling that tossed out Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage.

Judge Robert Hanson said he issued the stay about noon. Earlier, he had told the county attorney to instruct the Polk County recorder to stop accepting same-sex marriage applications.

By the time Recorder Julie Haggerty stopped taking applications around 11 a.m., her office had accepted 21 applications.

After applying, one couple obtained a judge's waiver of Iowa's three-day waiting period for marriage licenses.

The men, Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan of Ames, then drove to the Des Moines home of the Rev. Mark Stringer, who quickly performed a wedding ceremony in his front yard.

"This is it. We're married. I love you," Fritz told McQuillan after the ceremony.

Stringer, a reverend at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, performed the marriage a day after Hanson issued a decision that Iowa's ban on same-sex marriage violated the state's constitution.

The ruling applied only to Polk County, but Iowa law allows citizens to take out a marriage application in any county.

Stringer concluded the ceremony by saying, "This is a legal document and you are married."

The men then kissed and hugged.

Less than an hour later, the county stopped accepting applications.

That morning, a stream of gay couples filed applications at the recorder's office.

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 wanted to file an application early out of fear a judge would grant a stay, stopping applications while Thursday's ruling is appealed.

"This might be our only chance," Farlow said. "We already knew we were spending the rest of our lives together."

The first couple to apply for a license was Gary Allen Seronko, 51, and David Curtis Rethmeier, 29, who did so Thursday afternoon.

"I started to cry because we so badly want to be able to be protected if something happens to one of us," Rethmeier said.

In Hanson's ruling, he ordered the Polk County recorder to issue marriage licenses to six gay couples who filed the lawsuit.

"This is kind of the American Dream," said plaintiff Jen BarbouRoske, of Iowa City. "I'm still feeling kind of shaky. It's pure elation. I just cannot believe it."

Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization, said the ruling requires "full equality for all Iowans, including gay and lesbian Iowans and their families."

"The Iowa Constitution has lived up to its promises of equality for everyone," she said.

Polk County filed a notice of appeal Friday, County Attorney John Sarcone said.

Sarcone said 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.

Des Moines lawyer Dennis Johnson represented the six gay couples who filed the lawsuit after they were denied marriage licenses.

He argued that Iowa has a long history of aggressively protecting civil rights in cases of race and gender. He said the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Legislature passed in 1998, contradicts previous court rulings regarding civil rights and should be struck down.

Johnson said the law violates the state constitution's equal protection and due-process clauses.

Lambda Legal, which spearheaded a same-sex marriage drive across the country, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the gay and lesbian couples in Polk County District Court on Dec. 13, 2005.

Roger J. Kuhle, an assistant Polk County attorney, argued that the issue is not for a judge to decide.

Rachel Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the conservative Iowa Family Policy Center, which opposes gay marriage, said the decision will be appealed.

"We're very disappointed and will pursue to the next level of courts," she said.

In his ruling, Hanson said the state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

"Couples, such as plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage ... by reason of the fact that both persons comprising such a couple are of the same sex," he said.

The judge said the state law banning same-sex marriage must be nullified, severed and stricken from the books and 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..."

Gov. Chet Culver issued a statement stating his opposition to gay marriage.

"While some Iowans may disagree on this issue, I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman," Culver said.

Culver left the option open for state action.

Kate Varnum, another plaintiff, said she was elated but expected more legal battles.

"I don't expect this to be the last one," said Varnum, of Cedar Rapids.