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Hundreds flock to Iowa for same-sex marriages
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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It was a coincidence that Rachel Miller and Lindsey O'Brien celebrated their Iowa wedding the same weekend that Illinois began offering civil unions.

They had been making plans for two years, ever since the Iowa Supreme Court decision brought equal marriage rights to the state. On June 3, 2011, before family and friends, the two tied the knot.

An Iowa ceremony made sense for the Illinois couple. They had met in a college poetry class at Grinnell College. Their venue, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, sat next to O'Brien's hometown of Moline, Ill.

It was a traditional ceremony. Their fathers walked them down the aisle. Miller's grandmother came, despite initial hesitation. They danced with their parents at the reception afterward. They both wore white.

After the wedding, they boarded a Greyhound bus back to Illinois.

"As we were crossing the Mississippi [River], we were kind of like, 'well, we're demoted to civil unions,'" O'Brien recalled.

O'Brien and Miller are among thousands of LGBT couples who, since 2009, have made the trip to Iowa to get legally married.

From May 2009 through the end of 2012, 5,926 same-sex couples married in Iowa, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Illinois residents accounted for more than nine percent of those marriages, with 544 same-sex couples traveling to Iowa to say, "I do."

According to a Williams Institute study released earlier this year, Illinois marriage equality would generate $54-103 million in spending in the state over the first three years. But that number does not take into account predicted out-of-state marriages.

More than 70 percent of Iowa same-sex marriages were between out-of-state couples. Iowa residents accounted for just 1,766 of same-sex marriages in the state.

Midwestern states tended to report higher numbers than other states further away from Iowa.

Heterosexual marriages also accounted for a large number of Illinois-to-Iowa marriages. Same-sex unions accounted for just 27 percent of the Illinois marriages held in Iowa.

Iowa same-sex marriages became available in May in 2009, and that year saw a high number of Illinois same-sex marriages in the state at 172. Two-hundred Illinois same-sex couples married in Iowa in 2010. Civil unions, which took effect in Illinois in June 2011, appear to have drastically reduced the number of Illinois couples who left the state to wed; 105 same-sex marriages were reported from Illinois that year. Last year saw even fewer with just 67 same-sex marriages from Illinois.

Numbers are not yet available for 2013, but some have predicted that equal marriage states will see an increase in same-sex marriages as the effective strike down of the Defense of Marriage Act will allow same-sex married couples access to many federal benefits that were previously denied, even if the state they live in does not recognize same-sex marriage. Attorneys have advised Illinois same-sex couples to consider leaving Illinois to get married, rather than getting Illinois civil unions.

In past years, a higher percentage of lesbian couples from Illinois had same-sex marriages than gay men. Of the 544 same-sex couples to wed from Illinois, 336 were categorized as female/female; 208 were categorized as male/male. Iowa also records "other" and "blank" as gender categories for marriages. Those numbers were not available for Illinois specifically, but totals are available for all states combined. Altogether, marriages involving partners that identified as "other" or "blank" totaled 3,262 from 2009-2012.

Below is a breakdown of numbers available. Data is courtesy of the Iowa Department of Public Health, with additional breakdowns by Windy City Times.

Editor's note: Because numbers are not yet available for 2013, these numbers range from May 2009 (when Iowa same-sex marriages began) through 2012. The data below is based on information provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

In states that reported less than five same-sex Iowa marriages, the number was not published by the department for confidentiality reasons. Those numbers are therefore not included.

For Illinois, the Iowa Department of Public Health provided a gender breakdown of couples in the categories of "Male/Male" and "Female/Female." However, the state also allows couples to identify as "other" and "blank." Iowa provided data on the total number of couples (in all states and categories) where a partner identified as "other" or "blank." That data has been included separately below.

Iowa marriages: By the numbers

544: The number of same-sex Illinois couples to wed in Iowa.

9: The percentage of Iowa same-sex marriages between Illinois residents.

27; The percentage of Illinois residents to wed in Iowa who were same-sex couples.

70: The percentage of Iowa same-sex marriages that were of out-of-state couples.

View charts 1) Same-Gender Marriages by State of Residence, by Year 2009-2012 Iowa Occurrence Data, 2) Numbers of Illinois couples who married in Iowa, 3) Couples where one or more partners identified gender as "other" or "blank" (all states) at .

YEAR 2009 (marriages begin in May)/2010/2011/2012/Total all years





Same-sex total


Heterosexual and same-sex marriages total


Couples where one or more partners identified gender as "other" or "blank" (all states)

YEAR 2009 (marriages begin in May)/2010/2011/2012/Total all years Number

















Charts by Iowa Department of Public Health

Same-Gender Marriages by State of Residence, by Year

2009-2012 Iowa Occurrence Data








District of Columbia/*/*/*/*





















New Jersey/*/*/*/*

New Mexico/7/9/17/13

New York/11/*/8/*

North Carolina/7/7/7/*

North Dakota/*/6/6/*





Remainder of World/*/*/*/*

South Carolina/*/*/*/*

South Dakota/13/12/9/9






West Virginia/*/*/*/*



Mixed States/49/63/58/66


* Counts of 5 or fewer are masked for confidentiality.

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