by Jessica Carreras
It’s been over a year since the Iowa Supreme Court passed down the decision to allow same-sex marriages in that state, and the area has been marked as a Midwestern haven for neighbors looking for a weekend getaway that will result in a marriage certificate and a newly discovered sense that at least somewhere, their relationship is recognized.
Over 1,000 same-sex marriages took place in Iowa from April 27 to Dec. 31 – including 18 from Michigan, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Tom Fiedler and Tom Taylor were one of those couples. Originally planning to be wed in California, the Lathrup Village couple of 30 years nixed their travel plans after Proposition 8 took marriage rights away in that state.
But Iowa was the perfect back-up plan.
The couple was heading to Davenport, Iowa – where Fiedler is originally from – for his second cousin’s wedding. “So we thought that if we’re going in for that and Iowa now allowed gay marriage, we’d just go ahead and get married the Monday after their wedding,” Fielder says nonchalantly.
The whole experience was low-key, packed into a weekend visit honoring someone else’s union and celebrated only with a dinner out with family – which Fiedler and Taylor paid for.
It makes sense: The couple claims they felt married long before Iowa made it official on June 29, 2009. Together since 1970 and owning their current home since almost as long, Taylor and Fiedler said marriage was more of an afterthought.
But still an important one – especially if the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed as President Obama has promised. “It was mainly that it was about time, more than anything else,” Taylor says of their decision to finally take the leap into matrimony. “If it can be legal somewhere, we might as well do it, because maybe eventually if DOMA ever gets taken out, the rights will be there.”
“We’re very much in love,” Fiedler adds, “and it seemed like it was just a further recognized commitment to each other.”
A commitment that, it seems, many Michigan couples are still making the eight-hour trip west for, even as the novelty of gay marriage in Iowa wears off. Tacked onto last year’s six male and 12 female couples are at least two more: Ron Thompson and Jim Ekhardt, and Terri Torkko and Meghan Eagen.
Thompson and Ekhardt, together for over 13 years, made it legal on Feb. 1 at the end of a cross-country retirement road trip that took them to Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, California, then through New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas on their way to Iowa.
“Our plan included driving home through Iowa to stay with our friends, Randy and Bill, and to get legally married while we were there,” Ekhardt wrote in the couple’s road trip diary. “We spent five days in the small town of Searsboro, Iowa, with our friends while we waited the three business days for our application to be ready.”
Married in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint since 1996 (after an appropriately gay proposal during the Michigan Pride festival), the couple, now living on a farm near Saugatuck, had always felt that a faith-based marriage was enough. “I considered our handfasting to be our wedding to each other,” Jim shares, referring to the Pagan wedding ritual they shared that year. “There was never any other option for us, being two gay men.”
Until Iowa, that is.
It’s exactly the thought Torkko and Eagen had when planning their own big, gay Iowa wedding – a destination they chose both for its proximity to their friends and family, as well as the wording of its marriage laws. “We chose Iowa because at the time we were planning, it was the state with language most likely to hold when gay marriage is federally legalized,” Torkko explains. “We’re also lucky enough to have an amazing group of friends who live in and near the city, all of whom were involved in our day. My brother also lives within driving distance, so he and my niece were also there.”
The March 13 Iowa City wedding, Torkko shares, was a delightful experience, compounded with the fact that their ceremony was held at a gay-owned bed and breakfast called the Brown Street Inn, where only same-sex weddings are held.
Likewise, Thompson and Ekhardt, as well as Fiedler and Taylor, swear that Iowans were nothing but friendly and accepting throughout the whole process.
“From the moment we entered the Poweshiek County Recorder’s office in the County Courthouse, we felt honored, encouraged and supported in our actions to obtain a legal marriage in Iowa,” Ekhardt shares. “The Iowa residents whom we met along the street, in shops and restaurants, to whom we mentioned our plans to marry, were verbally supportive and congratulatory to us.
“Our overall experience in Iowa was very, very positive.”
By and large, Fiedler adds, “It’s been a very uplifting experience.”
And, of course, an important legal one.