DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa's first same-sex couple to get married here tied the knot yesterday in a surprise breakthrough for gay rights advocates in this traditionally conservative Midwestern state.
As wedding ceremonies go, the Rev. Mark Stringer admits the event he presided over in a front yard yesterday morning was "really brief" and lacked the usual lofty and sometimes somber oratory used at weddings.
But taking advantage of a narrow window created by a Polk County judge - an opening that closed hours later when the judge agreed to stay his ruling - Stringer administered vows to university students Timothy McQuillan and Sean Fritz in what is believed to be Iowa's first same-sex marriage.
"It was a very quick decision for me to say 'yes' to them because for so many years, I've performed same-sex union ceremonies without the piece of paper," Stringer said after the two quickly obtained a marriage license from the Polk County recorder's office.
"It was awesome," said Stringer, who studied for seminary training in Chicago and now heads the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines. "Every religion can do what they want, but in my faith tradition, we believe in love and justice and to me, this was an example of love and justice."
In a state where Midwestern heartland values are viewed as an important component in the quadrennial role of helping pick the nation's presidential contenders, the ruling by Judge Robert Hanson on Thursday to strike down the state's 1997 Defense of Marriage Act, which limited state-recognized marriages to one man and one woman, was considered a significant surprise.
Hanson's ruling was limited to Polk County, where Des Moines is the county seat.
The case is already becoming a political football as the caucuses approach in Iowa. But Camilla Taylor, a Chicago attorney with Lambda Legal, a national gay rights organization, said the timing was not of their choosing. The group took on the case in 2005 because Iowa homosexuals - particularly senior citizens - were desperate for the protection that marriage provides, and it has taken this long to resolve, she said.
"I do think [gay and lesbian] people around the country are going to be very excited, if this is upheld by the Iowa Supreme Court, because I think it's indicative of what people in the heartland really believe about the need for fair treatment for everyone," Taylor said.
The ruling also pushed the issue into the Republican presidential campaign .
Mitt Romney, who is trying to solidify his credentials with GOP conservatives in the nation's first caucus state after serving as governor in Massachusetts, called Thursday's ruling "another example of an activist court" and urged a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, another candidate who is courting religious conservatives, said in a statement that "the people of Iowa reject the redefinition of marriage, and I pledge to defend the bond of marriage."
Iowa Republicans said they would work in the next legislative session to try to fashion a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and Iowa's Democratic governor, Chet Culver, said he would follow the legal and legislative maneuverings, though he personally believed marriage was between a man and a woman.
Rick Pearson and Russell Working write for the Chicago Tribune.