On July 16, 1988, June Focken and Carol McCormick professed their love and commitment to one another in a ceremony performed by a minister from the Metropolitan Community Church of Omaha. After the ceremony, Focken and McCormick were presented with a certificate of holy union, a document that signified their bond, but carried absolutely no weight in the eyes of the law.
Exactly 21 years to the day, on July 16, 2009, Focken and McCormick will say I do to one another again as they become one of the first same-sex couples in Mills County to wed and have their marriage legally recognized by the state of Iowa.
On Monday, 24 days after the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling to reject state law that restricts marriage to a man and woman; Iowa became the third state in the nation to legally recognize same-sex marriages. Focken and McCormick were the first couple to complete a marriage license application at the Mills County Recorder’s Office Monday morning and were among hundreds of couples that flocked to county courthouses across the state to file their paperwork.
“We didn’t really want to be (first in Mills County), but we were just really excited,” Focken said.
McCormick said they’ve been looking forward to the day since learning of the Supreme Court ruling on April 3.
“It’s a historic day and we want to be a part of this history,” McCormick said. “You wait that long to do something like this, so you want to be a part of it. This is a very important day for us.
“For me, it’s the recognition – that recognition that the state of Iowa says what we’ve had for the past 21 years is now recognized publicly.”
Public recognition aside, there are also some new privileges Focken and McCormick will be able to enjoy once they’re married.
For starters, they’ll have the option to file a joint tax return in Iowa. If they choose to get health care in Iowa, they’ll have legal authority to make decisions concerning one another’s treatment and care. There are possible insurance benefits as well.
“Basic human rights that unfortunately heterosexual couples seem to take for granted,” McCormick said.
McCormick said she always thought the day would come when same-sex marriages would be recognized in Iowa, but admits that it happened faster than she expected.
“I thought we’d be a bit older than what we are to see this, but I knew it would come eventually,” she said. “We’re in the Midwest, even though here in Iowa, we’re trailblazers. We really are.”
Focken, 48, and McCormick, 49, spent the first four years of their life together living in Omaha. Focken is a self-described “country girl” from the small town of Douglas in southeast Nebraska. McCormick is from North Platte, Neb. They moved to Glenwood in 1992.
“Omaha is more of a community you can surround yourself with,” McCormick said. “So, when we came to Glenwood, we just quietly went about our lives. We have not been greeted by anything but positive. We have very wonderful people here to be supportive of us as well. We’ve always felt very accepted. We have never felt any negative repercussion, prejudice or hostility.”
McCormick is a facility administrator at Creighton University Medical Center while Focken manages the home decor / crafts store they own and operate together on the outskirts of Glenwood. She also looks after their four acres of farmland.
With their marriage application completed, Focken and McCormick now have less than three months to make their wedding plans.
“Wedding planning after you’ve been married for 21 years is kind of weird,” McCormick said.
Focken said the wedding would be a “faith-based ceremony” and serve as a reinforcement of the commitment the couple made to one another in 1988.
“We’re not going to take away from what we said to each other 21 years ago,” said Focken, “We’re just going to add to it.”
While Focken and McCormick were the first same-sex couple to complete a marriage application in Mills County Monday, they won’t be the first to exchange wedding vows. That honor will likely go to Anita Garreans and Nan Person of Glenwood who applied for their license late Monday morning and plan to be married by week’s end.
“Just as soon as they’ll let us,” said Garreans. “We want to get it done before somebody changes their mind.”
They’ve been together for five years, living the last two in Glenwood. Garreans is a California native and Person is from North Carolina. They met in Arizona.
“We’ve lived so many places, it’s just a coincidence we happen to live in Iowa when this passes,” said Person. “I never would have thought Iowa would have been the place, but it’s awesome, just an awesome feeling.”
Garreans and Person also said they’ve felt no animosity being a lesbian couple living in a rural community.
“Visibility is key to change,” said Garreans. “There’s a lot of people in this town who had never known any gay people before they met us. They were the same ones who were the first to congratulate us when this happened.”
Person said her wish is for other states to follow the lead of Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
“Now, if we could just get the rest of the states to recognize it, that would be great,” Person said. “We just want all the other states to accept it.”
Vermont will become the fourth state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriages in September.
NOTE - Associate editor Joel Stevens provided material and assistance for this article.