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Iowa Issues Marriage Licenses To Gays

Same-sex couples in Iowa began applying for marriage licenses on Monday after a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay unions took effect.

The court issued an order early in the day confirming that the appeals process in the case has officially concluded.

Iowa county clerks were to begin processing same-sex marriage applications Monday, following the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling on April 3 that legalized same sex-marriage. Iowa typically requires a three-day waiting period for marriages, but judges can waive that and allow immediate weddings.

In Des Moines, about a dozen gay and lesbian couples waited in the rain for the Polk County administrative building to open.

Grant Lan, 35, and his partner Andrew Mahoney-Lan, 32, were first in line. 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 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.

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. Vermont has passed a law that will take effect September 1. Gay marriage was legal in California for five months, until a state referendum to ban it passed last fall.

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 were no federal issues 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 that is unlikely.

Iowa's same-sex marriage case began in 2005 when Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization, sued on behalf of six gay and lesbian Iowa couples.

Iowa has a history of being at 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.

Sean and Tim McQuillan of Ames, who persuaded a judge to grant them a waiver and marry them immediately on Aug. 31, 2007, during the few hours when gay marriage was legal in Iowa, are looking forward to getting some company.

"It's been a little bit awkward ... us being the only ones," Sean said. "It's going to be really great when everyone else gets the same chance at equality that we've had for the last year-and-a-half."

Volunteers were expected to be handing out bouquets to newly married couples Monday in five of Iowa's larger cities.

Maryfrances Evans, 46, and Stephanie McFarland, 39, plan to hold their ceremony Friday, performed by the same judge who finalized the adoptions of their two daughters, now 5 and 3.

"It's all about me having the legal right to protect my family, and it's about my daughters being able to grow up knowing that their family is absolutely as valid as any other family," said Evans, who lives in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated Iowa had 5,800 same-sex couples in 2005, and said U.S. Census figures reported about 19 percent of gay and lesbian couples in Iowa were raising children.

The institute predicted in an April 2008 study that more than 2,900 of Iowa's same-sex couples would marry in the first three years if gay marriage became legal. Based on experiences of other states that allow same-sex union, the institute estimated about 55,000 gay and lesbian couples would travel to Iowa to marry during that period.

Just what tangible benefits those couples will gain from marriage remains uncertain.

Gay marriage advocates said some advantages are clear, including shared employer benefits, streamlined life and other insurance policies, and the ability for couples to make health care and end-of-life decisions for one another.

Evans noted that if she died before her Friday wedding, McFarland would have to pay taxes on their house and whatever else she inherited. Once they are married, "there will be a clear-cut legal line connecting Stephanie and I, period."

Sharon Malheiro, a Des Moines attorney and board chairwoman of One Iowa, a gay advocacy organization, said other issues may require legal untangling, such as the ability to file wrongful death lawsuits or apply for workers compensation benefits if a same-sex spouse is killed or injured.

She said same-sex couples probably will be denied some benefits under the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages. For example, spouses in same-sex marriages may not be able to pay health care plan premiums with pretax federal dollars and may not get reimbursed for their spouse's expenditures from flexible spending accounts for health care.

While health care decision-making rights are anticipated under Iowa's ruling, Malheiro noted that she and her fiance will continue to carry their legal records with them when they travel outside the state, and she advises her clients to do the same.

Iowa state agencies are still trying to determine how their programs will be affected.

Department of Human Services officials said there won't be noticeable changes in the child welfare system, which screens prospective parents by safety issues, not sexual preference. Unmarried people can already adopt or foster children so long as they have the proper training.

Other states have different requirements for adoption, and many foreign governments and international adoption agencies refuse to place children with same-sex married couples.

Human Services spokesman Roger Munns said the marriage ruling's impact is less clear on programs such as Medicaid, food assistance and subsidized health care, since those programs are federally funded.

The Iowa Department of Revenue has generally followed federal guidelines on levying taxes. Spokeswoman Renee Mulvey said officials are reviewing the state court's decision.

Public health officials are reworking paperwork to give couples options beyond the tradition "bride" and "groom." Agency spokeswoman Polly Carver-Kimm said officials are considering other changes, including the designations of "mother" and "father" on birth certificates.

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