DES MOINES, Aug. 31 — From towns around the state, places like Cedar Falls, Ames and Cedar Rapids, same-sex couples converged on this city as early as dawn on Friday as word spread that a judge had overturned a state law banning gay marriage.
“Imagine this — right here in Iowa,” Amanda Duncan said as she and her partner of three years, Aleece Ramirez, filled out their application for a marriage license and put down $35. “Hopefully, this starts a fire that spreads to other places.”
The chance was fleeting. After four hours, Robert B. Hanson, the same county judge who had deemed the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional, delayed further granting of licenses until the Iowa Supreme Court decided whether to consider an appeal.
Still, national advocates for same-sex marriage pointed to the developments as significant. An issue that has largely been battled on the coasts in states like Massachusetts and California, they said, has made its way squarely to the more conservative middle.
“There are some people
scratching their heads and saying, Iowa?” said Jon Davidson, the legal director at Lambda Legal, which worked on the case that led to the marriage applications here. “But this shows that there are lesbian and gay people everywhere who would like to get married.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage said they viewed the decision as a rallying cry, a reason that a federal amendment defining marriage is needed and a reason that an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, not just a statute, is needed.
“This is the misguided decision of one person,” Chris Stovall, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which opposes same-sex marriage, said of Judge Hanson’s ruling on constitutionality. “I don’t think it represents at all what Iowa thinks. People across America and certainly in Iowa, in the heartland, understand that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.”
Massachusetts is the lone state that allows same-sex marriage. A handful of other states, including Vermont, New Jersey and Connecticut, allow same-sex civil unions. A few others, including California, allow other legal partnerships.
Judge Hanson’s ruling on Thursday, and the fallout on Friday, have also raised once more the issue of same-sex marriage among the presidential candidates who devote so much time in this state leading up to its early caucuses.
It is welcome for those candidates firmly opposed to or supportive of same-sex marriage, political experts said Friday, but has created an unwanted and thorny issue for those who have tried to walk a careful line somewhere in between.
“It really is a monkey wrench that sort of is thrown into the process for some of them,” Steffen W. Schmidt, a professor of political science at Iowa State University, said. “It’s potentially more dangerous for the Democrats, where the front-runners have been trying to finesse this issue.”
Mr. Romney called it “another example of an activist court and unelected judges trying to redefine marriage and disregard the will of the people.”
Asked about the ruling, Phil Singer, a spokesman for the campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, spoke of civil unions, not marriages.
“Hillary Clinton believes that gay and lesbian couples should have the same rights and responsibilities as all Americans, and that civil unions are the best way to achieve this goal,” Mr. Singer said. “As president, she will work to extend benefits at the federal level to same-sex couples in committed relationships.”
Here, the brief flurry of applications for marriage licenses was low key. About 20 couples applied before a stay was granted. No protesters appeared. Few passers-by near the Polk County administration building said they were aware of the ruling.
The legal case here began in 2005 when six same-sex couples sued the county recorder, who declined to accept their applications for marriage licenses.
The question now goes to the State Supreme Court.
In the hours before the case was suspended, just one couple, Timothy McQuillan, 21, and Sean Fritz, 24, managed to obtain their license, and also to marry. Trailed by reporters, they raced around Des Moines in search of someone who could officiate at their wedding and found a minister who agreed to conduct the service.
“We had to get married — we’re at that point in our life,” said Mr. Fritz, who said he proposed to Mr. McQuillan in a parking lot after he heard about the ruling on Thursday night.
The men, who live in Ames, met on Facebook more than a year ago, Mr. Fritz said. Whatever the outcome of the legal case, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m married in the state of Iowa.”
John Sarcone, the Polk County attorney, who is representing the county recorder’s office in the case, said the marriage could be considered legitimate. Ultimately, though, it, too, may depend on the decision of a higher court.