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Iowa, a place to get hitched

BY LAUREN MILLS | OCTOBER 08, 2009 7:20 AM

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Once upon a time, a sea of red T-shirts filled the pavement of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. In a hotel not far away, two men worked to snap pictures of people in veils and tuxedoes holding up a frame reading “Just Married in Iowa City.”

Joe Jennison and Eric Heinkel, who both live in the Iowa City area, traveled to California’s Gay Days last week to encourage same-sex couples to use Iowa as their wedding destination.

“We aren’t expecting people to pack up their bags and rush to Iowa,” said UI alumnus Heinkel, the convention sales manager for the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But we want them to know people in Iowa are open.”

Californians passed Proposition 8 last November, banning same-sex marriages in the state that once legalized it.

“Many, many couples are already feeling estranged from their state government,” said Jennison, who serves as the executive director of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance. He noted there was a “brief window” when 18,000 California couples married. “Since then, the door has been shut on couples who want to show their love.”

When the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in April, it became one of six states to permit gay marriage, according to the Pew Forum. All others touch borders in the New England area, making Iowa the closest destination for Californians.

The main question on people’s minds was not the intricacies of the law, Jennison said, but what they can do in Iowa City after 5 p.m.

“There was one man who said, ‘There’s nothing in Iowa but corn and dirt roads,’ ” Jennison said. “I just about punched him. I told him: ‘Yes, there is. Here is all the stuff to do,’ ” and he swept his hand over a table laden with brochures.

One advantage to bringing weddings to the area is an economic boost.

“Good times or bad, if you keep your arms and hearts and mind open and inclusive, you will see benefits,” said Mark Ginsberg, the owner of M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, 110 E. Washington St., who sent his poster for “Love Without Prejudice” to California.

“I’m a business person,” he said. “I look to see how I can break down barriers and bring tourism and business to our city. We have to begin to realize that puritanical hypocrisy has outlived its usefulness. Little by little we are chipping away at hypocrisy and saying, ‘We are humans first.’ ”

Some members of the Iowa City community agreed.

“It’s just a sound fiscal move,” said Mark McCusker, who heard about the trip on the radio that morning. “They build a strong relationship with Iowa. It’s the place they got married. They are going to return.”

Since the measure passed, Ginsberg said, he has seen busloads of couples from nearby states such as Missouri and Illinois. Churches, too, have seen couples coming in to say “I do.”

Rev. Bill Lovin’s chapel, the Congregational United Church of Christ, 30 N. Clinton St., opened its doors to five couples from as far away as Georgia since the April ruling.

“It is like being at any wedding,” Lovin said. “You feel both joy and a little sense of ‘Oh my gosh.’ … Maybe even more so because these are long-standing relationships that are finally getting the legal recognition they lacked.”


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