Joy. Exhilaration. Fear. Anger.
A range of emotions hit Iowans one year ago when the Iowa Supreme Court released its unanimous decision overturning a 1998 law banning same-sex couples from marrying.
One group in particular felt trepidation. County recorders in all 99 Iowa counties worried about when and how to begin issuing the new licenses in a way that would comply with Iowa law. When a flood of marriage applicants was predicted one that would have almost doubled the state's annual volume of marriage licenses concerns about workload arose.
In the end, the first year of licensing for same-sex couples turned out to be a little like March in like a lion, out like a lamb. After initial crowds at some recorders' offices, as well as extraordinary media attention for the normally under-the-radar recorders, all is business as usual.
In the first seven months of marriages for gay and lesbian couples, 1,783 same-sex marriages were recorded with the state, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The true number could be larger. Iowa does not require marriage license applicants to designate their sex on the forms that are filed with the state. About 900 married couples who filed certificates with the state from April 27 through Dec. 31 did not fill in that optional part of the application, said Jill France, chief of the Iowa Bureau of Health Statistics.
But, even if the number of same-sex marriages is 900 larger, that's a far cry from the 57,640 in three years predicted by the Williams Institute of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. The group predicted 2,917 of Iowa's gay couples and about 54,723 out-of-state couples would marry during that period.
The low numbers are surprising, said Pottawattamie County Recorder John Sciortino. About 204 same-sex couples filed marriage certificates in Council Bluffs during the last eight months of last year. During that time, 557 opposite-sex couples were married.
“In the beginning, there were some crowds,” Sciortino said. Now, he said, his office files a marriage certificate for about one same-sex couple each week.
In some Iowa counties, including Mills and Harrison Counties, state statistics show that no same-sex marriage certificates were filed. Mills County Recorder Vicki McClintic said she doesn't believe that is accurate. She hasn't tracked same-sex versus opposite-sex marriages, but believes the county has handled around a dozen. Harrison County Recorder Lorie Thompson said her office also handled some same-sex marriage licenses.
Same-sex marriage certificates weren't included in a county's tally if the number of marriage certificates issued there was less than three, France said. Marriage licenses without a specified sex also could account for the discrepancy.
About 739 of Iowa's same-sex couples were married in 2009. At that pace, same-sex couples living in Iowa could come close to the 2,917 marriages in three years predicted by the UCLA study. But the out-of-state numbers are nowhere close to the predictions.
The state numbers show 1,044 same-sex couples from outside Iowa came to the state to be married, most coming from states that border Iowa Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska.
That off-target projection may be, in part, because the study was authored in April 2008, before other states approved marriage for same-sex couples, said Lee Badgett, one of the report's authors and director of the Williams Institute.
After the report was released, the California Supreme Court overturned a law banning same-sex marriage. That ruling resulted in 18,000 marriages before a voter-approved constitutional amendment banned same-sex marriage. Gay and lesbian marriages also have been legalized in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., since the report was authored.
“That very large out-of-state projection, in the current context, we wouldn't have estimated that many couples would have gone there,” said Badgett.
Political science professor David Redlawsk believes that the lower number of out-of-state couples is due, in part, to the fact that Iowa isn't a popular spot for vacation weddings. Also, if your home state doesn't recognize your marriage, the incentive to get married is diminished for some couples, he said. Redlawsk, who has overseen most Iowa Polls on the subject of same-sex marriage, is on leave from the University of Iowa. He's currently teaching at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Regardless of the reasons, out-of-state gay and lesbian couples haven't made Iowa the marriage destination many either dreamed of or feared it would become. For 1,783 couples, it's still special. For county recorders, it's been another year at work.
“We just do our job,” said Sciortino. “That's it.”
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