DES MOINES, Iowa – A county judge struck down Iowa's decade-old gay marriage ban as unconstitutional Thursday and ordered local officials to process marriage licenses for six gay couples.
Gay couples from anywhere in Iowa could apply for a marriage license from Polk County under Judge Robert Hanson's ruling.
Less than two hours after word of the ruling was publicized, two Des Moines men applied for a license, the first time the county had accepted a same-sex application. The approval process takes three days.
Gary Allen Seronko, 51, was listed as the groom on the form and David Curtis Rethmeier, 29, the bride.
"I started to cry because we so badly want to be able to be protected if something happens to one of us," Rethmeier said.
Deputy Recorder Trish Umthun said she took five calls from gay couples after the judge filed his ruling Thursday afternoon and expected a rush of applications Friday.
County attorney John Sarcone said the county will appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court and immediately sought a stay from Hanson that would prevent gay couples from seeking a marriage license until the appeal is resolved. The Supreme Court could refer the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals, consider the case itself or decide not to hear it.
A hearing is likely to be held on the stay motion next week, said Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization.
House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said the ruling illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"I can't believe this is happening in Iowa," he said. "I guarantee you there will be a vote on this issue come January," when the Legislature convenes.
Massachusetts is the only state where gay marriage is legal, though nine other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples. Nearly all states have defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, and 27 states have such wording in their constitutions, according the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Dennis Johnson, the lawyer for the six gay couples who sued in 2005 after they were denied marriage licenses, had 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 rulings regarding civil rights.
Roger J. Kuhle, an assistant Polk County attorney, argued that the issue is not for a judge to decide.
Hanson ruled that 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 person comprising such a couple are of the same sex," he said.