Five years ago, in the Statehouse rotunda, Trish Hyde and Kate Varnum of Cedar Rapids told me about their desire to get married. It seemed like a pretty far-fetched notion at the time.
State law and divisive politics and snide stereotypes stood in their way. But they weren’t about to give up.
“The constitution was not made to discriminate,” Trish told me back in 2004.
They held a commitment ceremony at a local church. Trish legally changed her last name to Varnum. And they joined a lawsuit with five other couples hoping to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban.
That case, Varnum v. Brien, led to a landmark Iowa Supreme Court ruling earlier this month striking down the state’s ban on same-sex unions. The ruling took effect on Monday.
So it seemed like a good time to meet up with Trish and Kate again, just as far-fetched was about to become history-making.
“Are you ready for this?” Kate asked Trish as they walked toward the Linn County Recorder’s office to apply for a genuine, legal Iowa marriage license. A crowd of friends and family and media types tagged along.
“Absolutely,” Trish said.
If the last few weeks belonged to the shouters, doubters and culture warriors who want to drag Iowa backward, Monday belonged to a lot of very happy folks looking forward. They clasped hands and held flowers and snapped photos. They smiled and applauded each other as they stood in line, happily, to wait a few more minutes after years of uncertainty.
There was a longer line down the hall outside the property tax office, but it was far less joyous.
All the loud debate of recent weeks gave way to the calm, methodical chatter of bureaucracy – Social Security numbers, notaries, waiting periods and fees. For Trish and Kate, history was made on a plastic folding table strewn with office pens.
“Do you want to be party A or party B?” Trish asked Kate as they sat down to fill out the required forms.
They scribbled for several minutes, waited for copies and heard instructions. The couple’s witness, Ryan Wheeler, was asked all of the standard questions. “Are they both unmarried?” Uh, yes.
The recorder’s staff was swift, smiling and efficient. No one batted an eye.
And the cost, at long last, of gaining marriage equity under state law? A $35 fee. “This is the best $35 you could ever spend, let me tell you,” Kate said.
“We’re going to get married,” Trish said in a voice that mixed satisfaction with amazement. They’re planning a ceremony for later this year.
The good news for those of us who support marriage equity is that amazement will fade into normalcy. Starting today (Tuesday), gay and lesbian couples will show up to apply for marriage licenses without fanfare. There will be no cameras and gawkers scribbling notes. They’ll just be Iowans standing in line, living their lives, like the rest of us.
And over time, I think most Iowans will come to realize that allowing same-sex couples to pursue stability and legal equality for their families is a good thing for our state. It’s not scary or dark or dire.
What happened Monday isn’t going to cheapen your marriage or close your church or throw Western civilization into upheaval. You’re going to hear a lot of that bilge in the coming months. Don’t buy it.
Instead, think about how Iowa became a better, stronger and more equitable place Monday, thanks to people like Trish and Kate, who just wouldn’t give up.