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Couples traveling to Clinton to tie the knot

By Charlene Bielema and Jason Nevel

CLINTON -- Adorned with white bows and bells, a sign outside of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Wednesday had a message of congratulations for the couple who were married there that afternoon.

That couple is Ephraim and Joel Stiever-Rivera from Panama City, Fla., who drove to Clinton to be married, a decision they made on the heels of the Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage in Iowa.

Ephraim & Joel

They are not alone.

A check of records at the Clinton County Recorder's Office on Wednesday shows that several gay couples have been married in Clinton County since the Iowa Supreme Court voted unanimously to legalize same-sex marriage in April. That's when justices upheld a lower-court ruling that rejected a state law restricting marriage to a union between a man and woman. In their report, the court wrote that Iowa lawmakers have "excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."

Since the ruling, six gay couples, including Ephraim and Joel, have come to Clinton to be married. However, none of the other couples have traveled farther to tie the knot than the two newlyweds. Christina Jarosch and Sandra Kurt traveled from Akron, Ohio, but the rest were either in state or from Illinois.

The Clinton County Recorder's Office, which collects and stores marriage license information, files paperwork for gay couples the same as it would for heterosexual couples. The information only becomes part of the public record after everything is official.

The decision made Iowa the third state to allow same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Now, there are five states that allow gay marriage. For six months last year, California's high court allowed gay marriage before voters banned it in November.

In order for the decision to be reversed in Iowa, there would have to be a constitutional amendment, which wouldn't make it onto the ballot until 2012 at the earliest.

Other states have considered the measure but could never reach an agreement. In Illinois, lawmakers advanced legislation out of a committee that would have legalized civil unions but the proposal never reached the House floor for a full vote.

As for Ephraim and Joel, they're just happy they can finally be together.

Joel, an occupational therapist, and Ephraim, a Sprint employee, actually have been together for nine years, and were legally married on the day marking their ninth anniversary. The reason they chose Clinton was based on the presence of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a denomination that Joel says the couple have belonged to for a very long time.

Ephraim says it was Joel who planned the wedding, making the decision soon after Iowa legalized gay marriage.

The Rev. Ruby Nancy of Rock Island, Ill., officiated at the Stiever-Rivera wedding, but she has performed several of them as well as many commitment ceremonies over the years. Because the local congregation is without a pastor, she said she was contacted to lead the ceremony. She also created a wedding format targeted to and approved by the couple.

In it, she said the couple are taking their love to the world and that they are giving their hands and hearts to each other as a sanctuary of peace.

She also blessed their rings before proclaiming them husbands.

After the ceremony, the two proceeded to a reception behind the church.

"We are excited we could get married," Joel said.

Published: June 11, 2009 11:23 am in the Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa