DES MOINES, Iowa – Same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses at government offices across Iowa on Monday, and at least one lesbian couple tied the knot in a ceremony in Des Moines.
Melisa Keeton and Shelley Wolfe were declared "legally married" by pastor Pat Esperanaza during a ceremony in front of Polk County administrative offices in Des Moines. It didn't take long before they were 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 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 that legalized gay marriage.
"I didn't think it would be us," said Shelley Keeton, whose twin brother was served as one of the witnesses to the ceremony.
Earlier, the couple was able to get a judge to waive the state's three-day waiting period before marriages are considered final.
Grant Lan, 35, and his partner Andrew Mahoney-Lan, 32, were first in line at the Polk County office. The Windsor Heights couple planned to seek a waiver that would let them marry Monday.
"It's huge to be here first," Mahoney-Lan said.
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 said they wanted to get married as soon as possible 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.
A handful of Iowa's largest counties were seeing a rush right away, but foot traffic from same-sex couples began to slow toward midmorning.
At the Pottawattamie County recorder's office in western Iowa, Marilyn Hebing said about 10 couples filed their applications after the office opened, and more were slowly trickling in.
"It was pretty exciting, they were cheering out there," she said of the early morning crowd.
Dubuque County Recorder Kathy Flynn Thurlow said three couples had come into her office within the first few hours of opening. Her county, which borders Wisconsin, had gotten many telephone calls inquiring about the licenses.
"I expected even more (applications), already but we just don't know," she said.
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 said she and her partner plan to apply to be married this week.
Rumors 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 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.
The court issued an order Monday confirming that the appeals process in the case has officially concluded.
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.