Marriage equality has historically been seen as a liberal, coastal development: same-sex couples can now drive through the Northeast from Maine to Washington, DC without leaving a marriage equality state, and California allowed same-sex couples to wed early–albeit briefly–in 2008. But since 2009, there has been one unusual, non-coastal exception: Iowa, which was joined by Minnesota this May and Illinois just last night as the only states in the Midwest to provide equal marriage rights.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited married same-sex couples from obtaining federal benefits, couples in non-marriage equality states in the Midwest–say, for example, Missouri or Wisconsin–have been able to wed in nearby marriage equality states to access at least some of the benefits of marriage. As Al Jazeera America reports, Scott Emanuel and Ed Reggi of Missouri have become a pair of unexpected heroes on that front:
The St. Louis pair organizes buses that take area couples to Iowa to tie the knot. To date, they have put together 14 trips that have taken 150 couples to get married. Emanuel and Reggi were the first. Brandi and Kate Davis were the 142nd.
Dubbed the Marriage Equality Bus, the project was born from Emanuel and Reggi’s own love story. They were surprised when the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in that state in 2009, and the decision offered an opportunity. Iowa had become an unexpected solution to a unique problem facing LGBT couples in the Midwest.
“We found a few friends who wanted to go and get married too,” he said. “Then it expanded. Then we had more than a van.”
Emanuel and Reggi ended up chartering a bus with 16 other couples. After the first bus trip, word spread, and they haven’t stopped since.
“It’s the first time a lot of couples see their names on a document together,” Emanuel said. “That’s significant.”
With Illinois days away from becoming the 15th state to allow same-sex couples to marry (Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will signed the legislature-approved bill into law sometime this month), couples in Missouri and other nearby states without marriage equality will have a new, closer option than Iowa where there can get married. For couples in Missouri, a state with deep red majorities in both houses of the legislature and no laws prohibiting employment discrimination against LGBT people, that's a very good thing, indeed.