30 years is just the beginning

Ross Boettcher

It was New Year’s Eve 1977 when Mark Kassis and Terry Lowman first exchanged glances at what was then City Disco Park in Des Moines. With holiday celebration in the air and smiles in abundance, little did Mark and Terry know that almost 30 years later they would still be together.

Kassis and Lowman were the second couple to receive a marriage license in Polk County after District Court Judge Robert Hanson overturned the ban on same-sex marriage on Aug. 30. That small amount of time was just long enough for them to go through the complicated process of marriage.

Just days before the ruling, the couple received an e-mail from their reverend, Brian Eslinger of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames, 1015 N. Hyland Ave., and lecturer of philosophy and religious studies, that first opened their eyes to the possibility that same-sex marriage would be a distinct possibility in the following days.

When it became official that Kassis and Lowman had the opportunity to tie the knot after 30 years together, there was little hesitation.

The next day the Ames couple boarded an early-morning flight to Des Moines where the legal process would begin to run its course.

“After they repealed the ban on same-sex marriage, we called our minister and asked if he would marry us on Sunday [Sept. 2],” Lowman said. “So, we flew down to Des Moines on Friday [Aug. 31] and went through the process at the recorder’s office. We needed to get a three-day waiver so that we could get married and because you have to usually wait three days when you get a marriage license.”

After obtaining their marriage license, Kassis and Lowman were faced with the task of planning a wedding. Kassis and Lowman didn’t exactly know what to expect for their Sept. 2 wedding day. But, when all was said and done, the 230 guests from around the community and the five-minute standing ovation at the church made for an experience that Eslinger, the man who married the couple, said may certainly resound throughout the state.

“It was such a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a relationship that has such meaning to it,” Eslinger said. “The turnout shows the fact that we can do something like this and have so much acceptance. When you look at the big picture, this has a very strong possibility of becoming a recognized right for gay and lesbian couples to have full recognized legal support in Iowa.”

Not only was the wedding a day to celebrate the couple’s 30 years together, but it also was Kassis’ birthday – just one among a long line of factors that seemed to fall into place perfectly for the couple.

“I had three nephews and my two older children were in town,” Lowman said. “My daughter is a lawyer in Miami and my son is a doctor in Chicago, so they can’t get away that easily.”

Despite the smiles and jubilation of the newlyweds and guests, the 30 years leading up to the landmark were anything but fun and games.

After their initial meeting on New Year’s Eve, the couple was relegated to months of just phone calls and letter-writing. Since Kassis was still a college student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the space allowed them to slow down and get to know each other on a deeper level.

Afterwards, Kassis and Lowman had bought their first house together in Las Vegas and were prepared to start their life together.

“Mark flew back on October 28 of ’77 and we rented a U-Haul and drove to Vegas,” Lowman said of the moving process. “I had to come back a few months later because my job at the time required me to, but we ended up moving back to Iowa in June of 1978.”

As a couple, Kassis and Lowman do their best doubling as proud adopting parents and co-business owners of Lucullan’s Italian Grill, 400 Main St. Sometimes, Lowman said their everyday life is more like a never-ending business venture.

“Our life is largely a business meeting,” Lowman said.

But, in Kassis’ eyes, their life is no different than any other couple that’s been together for three decades.

“We get up, have breakfast, I go to my office, which is here in the house,” Kassis said. “Then, Terry goes to the restaurant and we communicate back and forth and we phone back and forth. Then when he comes home I usually have dinner ready, after we eat we watch a little television, go to bed and do it all again the next day.”

Like many other working families, Kassis’ and Lowman’s business ventures consume a large portion of their time, but that they still find time for their other interests and activities.

“We do a lot with our church, and we’re fairly active in the Democratic Party,” Kassis said. “We actually have had the opportunity to meet John Kerry and John Edwards.”

Other activities that consume the time of the couple include traveling to their home on South Beach, Fla., and holding fundraisers at Lucullan’s during the political season.

One of the biggest landmarks in their life together was the adoption of their two youngest children, Anthony and Julian. It was a long, drawn-out process that produced a strong bond between the children and their new fathers, but it also marked the first adoption by a married same-sex couple in the state of Iowa.

While the legal future of same-sex marriage is still in question, the couple is confident that legally, things will swing in their favor. Until then, not much will change.

However, Kassis and Lowman feel their relationship will continue to survive the test of time.

“We have this joke about gay years, that, if you’re together for 10 years as a gay couple it’s the same as being together for 70 years as a straight couple,” Kassis said. “But in regards to allowing same-sex marriage, I think it’s 95 percent done looking at the history of the Iowa Constitution.”

With their background and history together, it’s clear there is absolutely nothing that will stand in their way of living the life they feel is fit while trying to better the lives of those around them.

As a couple, they stand out in the gay community because their love had the opportunity to become legally bound, but in reality, Kassis and Lowman are just like any other couple.

“This wasn’t just Mark and Terry getting married,” Lowman said. “This whole thing was a process that people in our church have been working on for over 30 years.”

Eslinger’s thoughts played much to the same tune as Lowman’s.

“The laws are finally catching up with what we’ve been doing in our church with couples for decades,” Eslinger said. “Now, we can get on to other issues that need our attention.”