DES MOINES (Reuters) - Gay couples lined up before dawn on Friday to apply for marriage licenses until an Iowa judge, who set off the rush to the altar by scuttling the state's law against same-sex marriage, put a halt to their bliss.
Less than 24 hours after starting the marriage stampede, Judge Robert Hanson of the Polk County District Court issued a stay to his own ruling that had said Iowa's law restricting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional.
On Friday Hanson ordered that no more marriage licenses be issued to gay couples at the request of a county prosecutor who wanted a halt until Iowa's Supreme Court can rule on the prosecutor's appeal.
But two Iowa State University students, Sean Fritz, 24, and Tim McQuillan, 21, beat the judge's stay and got their license, with a waiver bypassing the usual three-day waiting period.
Then they rushed off and found a Unitarian minister to unite them in a brief ceremony in the front yard of his Des Moines home.
It was unclear immediately how the stay would affect their marriage and other couples who managed to submit their marriage license applications.
The gay marriage issue is a hot one politically at all levels. Twenty-six states have constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage. Three states allow civil unions for gay couples -- with only Massachusetts permitting full same-sex marriage. New Hampshire will allow gay civil unions beginning in January.
Fritz and McQuillan were among about a dozen couples waiting in a line that formed before dawn at the Polk County Courthouse.
Fritz said he proposed to McQuillan on Thursday night after hearing about the judge's ruling and then went to a store to buy wedding rings.
"He instant messaged me over the Internet that this was going on," McQuillan said. "When he picked me up around 9 o'clock he proposed to me on the spot. Besides the obvious shock, I still haven't recovered. Maybe it'll set in later this week."
Fritz said the two did a "lot of double-checking everything on the Internet to make sure that we got all the paperwork filled out correctly the first time. We didn't want to get refused because we messed up a 't' somewhere."
Fritz says he called McQuillan's mother in California to ask permission to marry her son.
Not everyone was as happy.
House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of the Iowa Legislature called Thursday's ruling a "shocking" reversal of the will of the people of the state. He blamed Democrats, saying they had refused to back an amendment to the state constitution that would have cemented the ban.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has been campaigning in Iowa, called the decision another example of a ruling by an activist court. He said it demonstrates the need for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing gay marriages.
Michelle Gardner of Ames, a neighbor of Fritz and McQuillan who served as a witness on their marriage application, said "I'm just so happy to be in Iowa for this and so happy to be a part of their wedding."
Her 10-year-old daughter, Esther, clutching a bouquet, was the couple's flower girl.