UU minister performs Iowa's first same-sex wedding

UU minister performs Iowa's first same-sex wedding

Gay couple married by Unitarian Universalist minister before court blocked other weddings.
Jane Greer


When the Rev. Mark Stringer finished scraping paint in his bathroom at 3 a.m. on Friday August 31, little did he know that he would be a national celebrity by noon. Stringer, minister of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, conducted the first—and so far, only—legal same-sex marriage in Iowa later that morning. The marriage of Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan happened during an hours-long window of time between a ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Polk County, Iowa, and a stay that immediately halted the proceedings.

Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Iowa. However, on Thursday, August 30 Polk County Judge Robert Hanson ruled that the state’s Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional in a suit brought by six same-sex couples. In response to pressure from Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, Hanson stayed his ruling the following day.

When the ruling came down Thursday, same-sex couples mobilized to get marriage licenses while they could. McQuillan and Fritz were at the Des Moines courthouse bright and early Friday morning and obtained the license. By paying an extra five dollars and getting a waiver signed by a judge, they were able to skip the normally required three-day waiting period. Then, they were off in search of a minister.

At 10 a.m., Stringer received the call. “I told them I would meet them at noon at the church,” Stringer told UU World in a phone interview. “I wanted to get myself organized and take a shower.” He recognized immediately, however, the importance of the event and wasn’t surprised when McQuillan and Fritz called back five minutes later asking whether they could advance the ceremony. Within 15 minutes the couple arrived with a handful of family and friends—and a phalanx of reporters.

“I couldn’t even find a dress shirt,” said Stringer, who is in the process of readying his house for sale. So he threw a ministerial stole over a polo shirt and went out to conduct the wedding on his front lawn. “I hardly remember what I said,” he added, although a video of the ceremony is available at WHO, a local Des Moines TV station. After signing the marriage certificate, McQuillan and Fritz, along with their entourage, left to file the certificate at the courthouse. They were the only pair out of 20 couples to return with a signed license before the stay took effect.

Stringer stressed that such quick weddings are not normally the way he conducts business. However, as a marriage equality activist, he knew that this was not the average wedding. “I knew that I owed it to those couples who didn’t have that piece of paper. Any one of my UU colleagues, I’m sure, would have done the same. I’m so proud to serve in this movement.”

So far the emails that Stringer has received have been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

“I told the couple that I would be happy to conduct another ceremony for them at a later date, and they told me that they’d like to do that in the summer of 2008,” he said. The pair attended a service on September 2 at the Des Moines church where they received a standing ovation.

Stringer is enjoying his time in the spotlight and using it to advance the cause of marriage equality and Unitarian Universalism. “All of a sudden we’ve got a national audience for the Unitarian Universalist cause,” he said. “It’s such a gift!”

“I’ve lived in Chicago and New York. And it’s really great to say, ‘you’ve got to catch up to Des Moines!’”

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