Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gay couples bring a bit of a boost to Iowa - Kansas City Star

Gay couples bring a bit of a boost to Iowa - Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Star
Breaking News

GREENFIELD, Iowa | By getting married, a St. Louis couple brought a tiny measure of economic development last week to this hilly, corn-covered place.

Two quiet nights at the Brass Lantern, a bed-and-breakfast off Iowa 92. Dinner at the Old Hotel Restaurant. A chocolate wedding cake, locally bought.

Did it matter to the cashiers that the out-of-state visitors who came to be wed — Sherrill Wayland and her partner of 15 years — were of the same gender?

The wedding and accompanying legal certificate will not matter to Wayland’s home state of Missouri — nor to any of Iowa’s neighbor states.

Yet from those states hundreds of couples have funneled into Hawkeye country, with open checkbooks, for same-sex nuptials.

“It mattered for us to be able to choose a place in the Midwest that felt like home,” Wayland said.

It mattered, also, to the silver-haired owners of the Brass Lantern, Terry and Margie Moore. Ordained ministers who had never officiated a same-sex wedding, they hope to keep their romantic-getaway business going by welcoming couples of all kinds.

Across Iowa, a growing network of wedding planners, caterers, florists, photographers and even local chambers of commerce are with them.

“Sherrill asked over the phone if I’d be willing to preside over a same-sex ceremony…and I said, ‘Of course!’ ” said Terry Moore, 69.

His wife, 70, thought it wise to promote their inn on Web sites geared toward those who would appreciate the inn’s welcoming atmosphere. Now the inn has three other same-sex couples booked — all from out of state, including Kansas City.

Statewide, an estimated 45 percent of the same-sex marriages since April involved visitors, according to data compiled by the Iowa Vital Statistics Bureau.

As of late July, three months after the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a ban on such marriages, at least 37 couples had traveled in from Missouri — the third-leading state contributing to Iowa same-sex ceremonies, behind Illinois (more than 57 couples) and Nebraska (more than 38).

Exact numbers are difficult to know, as many couples opt not to specify gender on marriage licenses. Applications for the certificates have been changed to indicate Party A and Party B rather than bride and groom.

Cities are a draw

The majority of gays or lesbians wishing to get hitched flock to urban areas — Des Moines, Davenport, Council Bluffs and the university town of Iowa City, county records show.

Others go country: Greenfield’s Brass Lantern, which the Moores acquired in 1995, is linked by two-lane roads to the heart-tugging “Bridges of Madison County” region.

Never mind that the hamlet is in the conservative congressional district of U.S. Rep. Steve King. When the state’s high court made same-sex marriages legal, he issued a blistering condemnation and warned that Iowa could turn into “gay marriage mecca.”

The state is hardly Vegas for the gay and it may never be, given the early data on out-of-staters venturing in to wed.

An economic-impact study in April by UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Policy projected the new law over the next three years could draw as many as 55,000 same-sex couples from across the nation, each spending about $2,500.

In the first three months, however, marriage licenses for out-of-state couples of the same sex totaled no more than 500. Many counties along the borders saw a rush of license applications in the weeks after the ruling, but interest leveled off as the summer wore on.

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