Same sex marriage in Iowa became legal in April. But since then, half of these marriages have been by out-of-state residents, the Associated Press reported on Sunday:

[S]tate data show about 45 percent of Iowa's same-sex marriages were between out-of-state couples.

Of the 676 same-sex couples, 312 couples weren't from Iowa. They were from neighboring states.

Data show 57 couples were from Illinois, 38 were from Nebraska, 37 were from Missouri and 36 were from Minnesota.

So gay couples from other states have been going to Iowa to get married. But when they come back home, their marriages will have no legal status whatsoever. Their certificates will be just pieces of paper to hang on the wall.

So why do they do it? 

Perhaps these couples anticipate that their home states will one day pass out-of-state recognition laws. It's certainly easier for a state government to pass these kinds of laws than granting full marriage rights. See New York and D.C., for example.

But I don't think that's the reason. Instead, I think getting married gives couples a feeling of legitimacy and comfort that has nothing to do with the legal rights effects of marriage.

Take a look at what happened in California when gay marriage was briefly legalized. Thousands of gay couples got married, even though domestic partnership laws in the state already granted them all the legal rights of marriage. They had their rights, but they got married anyway.

The same is probably true for couples now flocking to Iowa and other gay marriage states. It's just another reason why “everything but marriage” laws, while a good substitute on paper, do not actually give gay couples the same benefits.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law and estate planning.]

Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper