Dear Readers in Same-Sex Relationships,
If you are thinking of heading over to Iowa to get hitched, read this first.
My wife and I were having our usual, lazy type of Saturday morning (possibly early afternoon) on April 4, 2009. We had slept to the point of sloth and risen only to cook and eat a huge breakfast together (hash browns, lattes, cheeseomelets and bacon). After we ate, I ventured out to get the newspaper. When I opened it, I did a little jig of happiness. My partner (let's call her B) now describes it as a victory dance/lap around the house in my bathrobe. I would maintain that she is exaggerating, but I do have a tendency to giddiness, especially when the happy event I'm experiencing is unexpected.
Just to add some perspective, it WAS love at first sight when we met in May of 2007. Just over a year later, on June 14, 2008, we held a modest, non-legal wedding in a park in Minneapolis. We had a huge number of attendants because all of our sisters and most of my wife's nieces were in our ceremony. I think our guests just barely outnumbered our wedding party, actually, but it was beautiful and perfect and we loved it. Our cake pretty much melted, but that's the only thing that really went wrong. Just in case you are wondering if you missed a court decision/law change, gay marriage is not legal in Minnesota. We live in South Dakota, so it really doesn't matter (legally) what we do or where, since the constitution here was (barely) changed by popular vote in 2006 to ban same-sex marriage, even though there was already a law banning it. I guess they just really, really wanted to be sure no recently-married gay or lesbian couples would be embracing and kissing on the courthouse steps in Sioux Falls.
What state you live in matters a great deal because in 1996, Bill Clinton signed into law the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. I am curious to know if a legal gay marriage performed in, say, Connecticut, is recognized right next door in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is also legal, but no one seems to know and I'm betting it's not because of DOMA.
Clearly, however, my wife and I don't care about DOMA or anything else (although we do know we need to set up legal protections for each other and our theoretical children, especially when you consider that my parents are both homophobic lawyers). We choose to call our wedding a wedding and our life together a marriage, even though it has no legal standing anywhere. We have already loosely planned to take vacations/elope in the various states that it is possible, so when the state right next door suddenly allowed it, I hopped to attention and started planning right away, on the floor of our living room on April 4.
I thought it would be fun to write a queer guide to marriage in Iowa for out-of-staters like myself. Every state handles marriage differently, so you have to research a little bit to make it happen. I've already done that for Iowa, so why not share and help others out?
I thought "what could go wrong? It's the LAW. The SUPREME COURT of Iowa said so." I became the excited, jumping-up-and-down instant-wedding planner. B is naturally more cautious, and warned me from the beginning that there were bound to be problems.
I hope this isn't too tedious, but I'm just going to walk you through the whole thing so far.
We decided to get married in Des Moines, since it's the capital city and only 4 hours away by car. Also, if anyone we knew wanted to fly in, it would be easier for them there. I already had May 1 off as a vacation day. B thought she could get it off. We would leave in the morning in time to pick up our license and get married on Saturday, May 2, which is pretty much as soon as possible in the circumstances.
I googled LGBT organizations in Des Moines and found one that had a link to a wedding chapel.
I called the chapel and talked to the owner. We talked about the package we wanted, where the chapel is, email addresses, when I should call again to finalize, and what number to call on Monday to get the legal ball rolling. Elated, I hung up. B and I started sussing out other details, etc.
I called the Polk Co. Recorder on Monday, 4/6, to make sure that my Googled information was correct and that we had all of our ducks in a row. I explained the situation to the friendly woman on the phone and she put me on hold to check her information. I had the impression that I was her first same-sex questioner. After a brief time on hold, she told me:
-There is a three-day waiting period once the license is issued before it becomes valid.
-Don't forget your $35 check to us.
-Go ahead and fill out the application in front of a notary with your one witness as soon as possible. She would put it in the mail that day.
-Call on the 24th to see if that is the day it will issue. She had heard it could also be the 27th because of furloughs. (It turned out to be the 27th.)
-Pick up by 5pm on Friday, May 1, for your planned May 2 wedding.
We received, signed and sent back our contract for the wedding with the chapel. It's a 1/2 hour elopement package and we will probably have to pay for two witnesses, since no one we know lives in the area.
A few days later, we had our first possible roadblock when B found out that she couldn't get May 1 off from work. We emailed the officiant to see if she would be willing to pick up our license. She said she would, but I should let the recorder know so that they would allow it.
I called the Polk Co. Recorder on the 13th to check on the process and make sure our officiant could pick up our license for us. I spoke to the same, helpful woman as before. She was apologetic and told me that it might be sent back, since they were now being told, just as that afternoon, actually, that they were not to keep applications by same-sex couples that arrived before the 27th. I hoped that I concealed my dismay and disgust, and pointed out that I had been told, specifically, that it would be held. She apologized again. I asked for her name to make sure that, if I called again, I could speak to the same person, and she told me. She also said I could call the next day and speak to her supervisor. I said I would be on a business trip, but that I might be able to squeeze it in. After I got off the phone, I emailed the owner of the chapel and asked if, through no fault of our own, we couldn't marry on May 2, we could change our date without losing our non-refundable deposit. She said that would be no problem, which at least kept me from feeling that the recorder's office potentially owes us $150.
About 20 minutes later, a strange thing happened. My phone rang, and it was the same woman from the recorder's office, apologizing profusely and saying that, since I had called the week before and been told that she would hold our application, she would still hold it. In effect, making an exception for us. She clearly felt really bad about upsetting me before. (I did not yell, scream, or cry, but my voice may have wavered slightly.) I said a little prayer to the Midwestern Gods of Tact, Thoroughness and Reason, and thanked her, making a note of the fact that she told me to call again on the 27th and check on things. She also said it was fine to have our officiant pick up our license.
We booked the hotel suggested by the chapel owner. It was a good rate and a convenient location at a national chain hotel. The lady on the phone congratulated me and sounded really pleased when I told her we were eloping lesbians.
Yesterday, I was riding in a car on the way home from a conference (my business trip). I was with three colleagues. My cell phone rang, it was a woman from the Polk Co. Recorder's office. She is the supervisor of the woman I spoke to the first three times. I think she was the one calling me because her subordinate was afraid of me either yelling or crying. She said that they had just been informed that applications made before the 27th might not be considered valid later, so she is going to return our previous application and payment so that we can do it again. I would like to say that I kept my cool, but I burst into tears. I'm crying again thinking about it. I wanted to be mad about it, but both women from that office have been so thoroughly midwestern and kind that I can't hold a single drop of ire for them. We talked for a few more minutes, trying to figure out if there was a way to beat the three-day waiting period and still get married on May 2, but it isn't possible unless we manage to have everything signed before the post office closes on the 27th and that isn't possible because B works until about 5 without a lunch break and anyway how would I find a notary who works that late? The waiting period can be waived, but we would have to find a judge who would do it and appear in court during the week, which isn't possible since we both work full-time jobs.
One of my colleagues handed me a tissue as I tried to get my snivels under control and txt B about the situation. I realized that the only thing worse than a 6-hour car ride is one that includes a bawling co-worker, so I pulled myself together. The woman who handed me a tissue told me that she was a notary and she would do anything she could to help us. We talked about logistics, but I still can't find a way, short of time travel, to make May 2 work. I complained a little to B on the phone and she pointed out how little it matters that it be that particular day.
I tried to tell myself that it's not that much different from having your flight changed/delayed during a trip. You're pissed or sad (I tend to run to frustrated tears in these situations) because you had a plan for it to be one way, but it changes, and it's usually not anyone in particular's fault, so you just suck it up and chalk it up to another travel horror story you can tell later. However, as I thought about it on the 5 more hours I had before I got home, I realized that it's not like that, really. First of all, it's way more important, even if it is just symbolic. Also, it's more like if everyone got on the plane and was ready to go, and you got into your seat and did all of your settling in only to be singled out. Told that YOU are the one who cannot go to your destination on the day that you chose. Everyone else who sent in an application for a marriage license in Iowa last week can get married on May 2, just not us.
So, as pointed out in the Iowa Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage:
Child abusers can marry on that day, just not us.
Sexual predators can marry on that day, just not us.
Parents neglecting to provide child support can marry on that day, just not us.
Axe murders can marry on that day, just not us.
Other gay and lesbian couples who live there and can get their application in on the 27th or 28th (assuming they are not too swamped to issue licenses in a timely manner) can marry on that day, just not us. (which I'm cool with)
Now, I'm wondering if I can have the marriage license mailed to us, to spare our officiant a trip. I'm wondering if we should try to pick a new date. June 13 would be nice, since it's only one day off from our first wedding, but I don't want to schedule with the chapel and maybe have to change it later, again. By then, the new rules will have been in effect for about 7 weeks, so all of the bugs should have been worked out. On the other hand, the rules may have been changed again. The ability for same-sex couples to marry, in theory, can't even be challenged in Iowa now without a constitutional amendment, although I'm sure there areplenty of dedicated, homophobic lawyers combing the books looking for a different way to stop us. Fortunately for us, it is not very easy to change the constitution in Iowa. It would take a few years, at least.
Complicating matters is the fact that I'm supposed to hear about a job I applied for on April 27th. Of course, they would be insane not to hire me, since I am SO PERFECT for the job, but I was considering it lucky that two important things might happen in my life on the same day - our first marriage license and my first job in a new field. Now, I'm changing that to thinking that I shouldn't have to suffer disappointment twice, and maybe these hiccups in our wedding plans spell happy, happy news on the job front on that Monday in April. Or maybe I should just stop being so superstitious and grow up already.
I'm calling our officiant tonight, as planned in our first conversation. I emailed her about the problem yesterday. I'm just hoping I can keep from blubbering when I tell her we have to postpone.
Also, a friend of mine is planning her (straight, legal in South Dakota) wedding. I was already fighting slight annoyance that she can do that. Now, I'm afraid that if she starts nattering about her plans, her dress, how she wants us all to dance for her, I may cry or scream at her. It's not her fault at all. She doesn't even know about any of this. It's not my fault, either. I may just have to go lock myself in the bathroom until it passes or stick my fingers in my ears and say "lalalalala". I'm also knitting wedding garters for a childhood friend and my cousin. I'm trying to only put good thoughts into that work, but it's difficult.