Queer eye for the Hawkeyes

By BEN FORNELL  |  April 29, 2009

"It's important that your neighbors, in your state, accept you," said Mel Andringa, a 65-year-old gay man who lives above a theater in Cedar Rapids with his partner of 30 years. "Tomorrow, all those names are going to be in the paper and people are going to have to get over it."

A new normal
For many of the couples applying for same-sex marriages across Iowa, Andringa said, Monday was just a reiteration of a betrothal that was sometimes decades old.

"There are two ends of the spectrum," he said. "The twentysomethings who can't imagine life without it and the sixtysomethings who thought they'd never see the day. And in the middle are people who are still deciding if they want to change their relationship." For Andringa and his partner, who work for the same company, health-care benefits are not an issue. They have no children. So for them, a decision to marry comes down to the choices surrounding death: having a trusted someone to say if and when to pull the plug, and who'll get the things he leaves behind.

Not everyone was as happy as Andringa was for the new policy. After the ruling came out on April 3, one county recorder in Iowa — Wayne County's Angela Horton — considered resigning her job if forced to issue the licenses.

"I'd prefer not to," Horton said last Friday, "but I have a job to do." Ironically, Horton's county was among the most heavily targeted by anti-gay-marriage protesters outside her door, not so much to prevent same-sex couples from getting married, but to convince her to violate the law in an act of civil disobedience. The conservative Iowa Family Policy Center even offered to cover her legal expenses, center president Chuck Hurley said, "all the way to the Supreme Court."

In Jefferson County, about 70 miles south of Iowa City, the all-Republican Board of Supervisors passed a resolution 3–0 that asked the state legislature to move on amending the Iowa state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Here in Iowa City, in an oak-paneled court room, a judge in black robes asked local residents Lois and Karen Gray if they promised to love and obey, in sickness and in health, until death do them part.

"I do," they said, Lois sliding a gold band on Karen's finger for the second time since 1983, when the couple promised themselves to each other as students at Grand View University in Des Moines. Her own ring wouldn't come loose, her finger having expanded inside it in the 26 years since that day.

"We were college sweethearts," Lois said to a bank of TV cameras set up outside the courthouse. "We knew then we'd be together forever, and we've been married in our minds since 1983. It's nice to say 'We're married,' and be right in every way."

Regina and Janice Culbertson of Cedar Rapids took the same name when they adopted their son Connor two years ago. They own a home together, and were able to be listed under the same insurance plan through Regina's employer. Still, they wasted no time in tying the knot, and on Monday, in front of a wall of family photos serving as surrogates, they clasped hands as a justice of the peace read the vows they'd written for each other.

"It's a relief," said Regina, swallowing a sip of wine after the short service. "Connor will never know a day that his moms weren't married. We're no longer single — we're a family. Well, we were a family before, but now we're a legal, married family."

Ben Fornell is an Iowa-based freelance writer. He can be reached at ben.fornell@gmail.com.

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