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County recorders in the limelight as opening day approaches for gay marriage

County recorder offices are hustling to get ready for Monday, when they will start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Recorder’s Offices — the keepers of birth, death, marriage and real estate records — have come under scrutiny as supporters and opponents prepare for same-sex marriage to become reality at county seats across the state.

“We have really no idea how many to expect,” said Phyllis Booth, a Linn County deputy recorder.

Her office is getting the new paperwork ready, including an application that instead of listing bride and groom, lists bride, groom or spouse. It also refers to each couple as “party A” and “party B,” instead of “bride” and “groom.”

Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled April 3 that same-sex marriage is legal, striking down the state legislature’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act and making Iowa the third state to allow gay couples to marry —after Massachusetts and Connecticut. The ruling goes into effect Monday.

Sue Meyer, the recorder in Clayton County in northeast Iowa, doesn’t expect a big turnout.

“We’ve had just one question. One person contacted us as to what will be the date and the procedure,” she said. “I’m not expecting a huge rush.”

Linn County will begin accepting applications Friday, though it won’t process them until Monday.

Gay couples from out-of-state can be married in Iowa as long as they either wait for three days after they get a marriage license, or get a special waiver from a county clerk of courts.

“We are getting inquiries. Now whether they’re from out of state or not is a little hard to say,” Booth said. “We don’t ask that question.”

The Cedar Rapids Police Department has notified the Linn County Recorder’s Office that Westdale Mall doesn’t want protesters in the building or on the parking lot, Booth said. The owners of Westdale, however, do not own the old Steve & Barry’s store, in which the recorder’s office is now located, on the ground floor.

Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton, and the Iowa Family Policy Center, a pro-life group that opposes same-sex marriage and gambling, are circulating a petition asking county recorders to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

But Marilyn Dopheide, president of the Iowa County Recorder’s Association and the Carroll County Recorder, said she doesn’t expect the petition will have much impact. Recorders can be removed from office for disobeying state law.

“I’m going to do what the Supreme Court says,” Dopheide said. “We have taken an oath to uphold the law. We don’t make policy.”

This is the view of Kim Painter, Johnson County’s recorder. She’s a lesbian who has been with her partner for 12 years.

She expects a “substantial number” of applications on Monday in Iowa City, some of them by mail.

“I’m sure we’ll have plenty of people that want to come back here who attended the University of Iowa, who either have family here or are just attached to the area,” she said.

In 2004, Painter turned down marriage applications from 52 gay couples, she said, even though she disagreed with the law that required her to do so.

“I’m glad that I did what I needed to do under the law,” she said, “because on Monday I believe all 99 recorders are going to do what they need to do under the law.”

(Linn County Recorder Joan McCalmant

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