Iowa clerk arrested for forging Fla. gay couple’s marriage license

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A Florida man said he’s angry a rural Iowa court official duped him and his partner into paying for an invalid marriage license, saying the case illustrates the difficulty facing gay couples who cannot get married in their own states.

Joab Penney, 28, of Williston, Fla., said he recently learned the license obtained in February was bogus after he contacted an attorney to get a divorce.

“I was pretty upset,” Penney said in an interview with The Associated Press. “What she did was wrong.”

Penney spoke two days after Grundy County deputy clerk of court Brigitte Van Nice was arrested and charged with two counts of forgery and one count of perjury. Prosecutors say Van Nice told Penney and his partner, Joseph Parker, they could get married in Iowa without coming to the state.

A criminal complaint says Van Nice filed documents falsely claiming she officiated a Valentine’s Day ceremony and included the phony signatures of two witnesses. It says the couple paid her $150 and was issued a license.

Prosecutors say Van Nice told the county recorder’s staff she met Penney and Parker randomly at a Waterloo truck stop and was asked to officiate their wedding. Penney said he’s never set foot in Iowa, which allows individuals from out-of-state to be married as long as they come to the state for a ceremony witnessed by two people.

Penney said he and Parker had been together for a long time and wanted to get married in Iowa, one of six states that allow same-sex marriage, because Florida bars the practice. He said they randomly contacted the Grundy County courthouse after a Google search and ended up talking with Van Nice, who sent them application materials.

The couple broke up shortly after the marriage for reasons that Penney did not want to discuss.

Florida divorce attorney Beth Gordon said she immediately suspected something was off when Penney brought her the marriage license after inquiring about how to get a divorce. Gordon said she asked the sheriff and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to investigate, turning over the documents to help.

She said the documents included a hand-written note with the application materials that Van Nice had mailed from home instead of the courthouse, which seemed suspicious.

Van Nice’s attorney said she plans to plead not guilty when she makes a court appearance this week.

Her arrest was believed to be the first of its kind in Iowa and considered extremely rare nationally.

Lee Badgett, research director at the Williams Institute at University of California Los Angeles, a think tank that studies gay rights, said it reminded her of how some Texas couples had been trying to get married a few years ago in Washington D.C., which allows same-sex marriage, through a video feed, a practice that has been dropped.

“It really illustrates a very, very big thing about gay marriage,” said Penney, who works in a restaurant kitchen. “Isn’t the United States supposed to be free? Why can’t same-sex people be married and be who they want to be? Why can’t all the states have it? It’s ridiculous.”