Jewish couples travel to Iowa to marry


Ed Reggi and Scott Emanuel, same-sex partners who have been together for 10 years, never imagined the day when they would be able to celebrate their love with a marriage. Yet there they were earlier this month, poised under a chuppah, being married by their rabbi, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation, crying along with everyone else in attendance as they said their vows.

OK, so they weren’t on the bimah at their temple in St. Louis, or even in the state of Missouri for that matter, but rather a church in Iowa City, Iowa. Nevertheless, the ceremony was magical to them, just like it is for most couples on their wedding day.


“It was kind of surreal, like everything just slowed down and I could really savor the moment,” said Reggi, 37, reflecting back on the ceremony. “I had been to plenty of ceremonies that Susan (Talve) has performed and heard the blessings, but this so resonated like nothing ever before. I heard the words and felt the light casting through the chuppah. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but it was amazing. To have all those people holding the chuppah and watching. I didn’t know the feeling would be so strong.”

Reggi, an actor, and Emanuel, 40, who works in development for the American Civil Liberties Union, were among 17 same-sex couples from the St. Louis area who boarded a chartered bus bound for Iowa City to get married on May 1. They were able to do so because on April 3, Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled that gay marriages are legal.

Reggi and Emanuel organized the trip to Iowa, the first state in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriages. “We decided to ask a couple we know because we realized we’d have enough room in our car,” Reggi said. “Then it became six couples in a caravan of cars. Then I said to Scott, instead of taking all these cars, let’s rent a mini-van and pack it with gay and lesbian couples who have been together a long time.” From there, the concept grew and there was no stopping it. Eventually, they realized they’d need to charter a bus so the Marriage Equality Bus was born.

“When Scott and Ed said they were putting this trip together, I said I was going. They couldn’t get married without me,” said Rabbi Talve. “We [husband Rabbi James Stone Goodman of Neve Shalom] don’t take for granted the fact that we got married. We feel it should be a right for everyone.”

Talve announced information about the bus trip from the bimah at a Shabbat service. “When a couple heard about it, one turned to the other and said, ‘Will you marry me?'” Talve said.

Reggi said people had been monitoring the situation in Iowa very carefully but even so, many were shocked by the ruling. “Not only did Iowa say it was against the law to discriminate against same sex marriages, it also said that couples had to be allowed to get married within 24 days of applying for a license,” Reggi said. “Every place where this has happened, they said the marriages couldn’t take place for 60 or 90 days.”

Once word got out about interest in the bus trip the momentum started to build. Reggi and Emanuel called a few clergy they knew who were supportive of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) community, created a logo and selected a date. On the appointed day, they loaded the bus with 17 couples, four clergy members, photographers and a filmmaker, and by 6 a.m. the bus pulled out of the parking lot at CRC and headed for Iowa City. Carloads of friends and family followed.

The mood on the bus ranged from excitement and nervousness to somberness. “I had lots of thoughts running through my mind on the way up like knowing that when we came back to Missouri later that day my marriage wouldn’t be recognized in Missouri,” said Sherie Schild, a member of CRC. “I also thought that I was doing this not only because I love Janice [Barrier] and she’s been my soul mate for 28 years, but because I should have the right. I am not a second-class citizen and should have every right to marry just like my heterosexual siblings have.”

Once in Iowa City, the first stop was at the administrative building to pick up the paperwork that Reggi had driven up and turned in earlier in the week. “The mayor of Iowa City, Regina Bailey, was the first person to greet us as we got off the bus,” said Reggi, who organized the group “The press was there and she welcomed us by telling us how happy they were that we were there.”

After picking up the paperwork and talking with the mayor and other citizens, the bus headed to the Unitarian Universalist Church where the ceremonies were to be performed. Around 1 p.m., Reggi and Emanuel were the first couple married.

“As we stood under the chuppah, Susan set the tone for the day,” Reggi said. “From that moment on, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building. Scott and I cried through the whole ceremony.”

So did Schild and Barrier. “When I was a young person growing up in Kansas, being gay was considered a mental illness. There was a gay bar in town that didn’t even have a name on the door. You’d have to knock on the door, mention the name of someone you knew inside, and they’d let you in,” Barrier recalled. “The police would raid the place and make the patrons stand on the street in front of the building where people would drive up and down and yell expletives. The patrons would be humiliated and the next day their names would be in the paper. So to come from that place to standing under the chuppah, I feel so much pride.”

After the ceremonies, the wedding parties enjoyed a congratulatory banquet at a restaurant across the street from the church. A local baker had read about the Marriage Equality Bus and volunteered to donate one of his customized wedding cakes. Then it was back on the bus for the return trip.

Lisa Mandel, also a member of CRC (and a freelance photographer for the Jewish Light) rode on the bus to experience the event and document it through photographs. “On the ride up, everyone was pretty subdued because we were all tired. On the return trip, everyone was still exhausted but very happy,” she said. “The mood was more celebratory. The tragedy is that these marriages are not recognized in this state.”