Iowa Supreme Court rules: Same-sex marriage is legal

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On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violated the state constitution. The court’s ruling opened the way for same-sex marriage in Iowa, beginning April 24. The court’s full 69-page decision is attached below, courtesy of the Minnesota Independent. Some quotations from the opinion follow:


In this case, we must decide if our state statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the Iowa Constitution, as the district court ruled. On our review, we hold the Iowa marriage statute violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. …


This lawsuit is a civil rights action by twelve individuals who reside in six communities across Iowa. Like most Iowans, they are responsible, caring, and productive individuals. They maintain important jobs, or are retired, and are contributing, benevolent members of their communities. They include a nurse, business manager, insurance analyst, bank agent, stay-at-home parent, church organist and piano teacher, museum director, federal employee, social worker, teacher, and two retired teachers. Like many Iowans, some have children and others hope to have children. Some are foster parents. Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected—a belief embraced by our state motto. Despite the commonality shared with other Iowans, the twelve plaintiffs are different from most in one way. They are sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex. The twelve plaintiffs comprise six same-sex couples who live in committed relationships. Each maintains a hope of getting married one day, an aspiration shared by many throughout Iowa. …

Iowa state senator: Religious right won’t win Iowa marriage debate
by Andy Birkey, Minnesota Independent

Openly gay Iowa state Sen. Matt McCoy says that same-sex marriage is in his state to stay following a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex couples to wed there in 21 days. Religious right leaders immediately vowed to fight the decision with a constitutional amendment as they did with Prop 8, but Iowa is not California.

“There’s no way a flood of out-of-control money can be used to quickly scare Iowans into going backwards on civil rights,” McCoy, a Democrat, said in a video Friday. “And whether you’re gay or straight, think about coming to Iowa to get married.”

Iowa requires a constitutional amendment to pass the Legislature in two sessions, and each session runs a two-year span. The earliest voters could see an amendment is 2012, just in time for the Iowa presidential caucuses. But the religious right says it will try.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa: “Now it is the Iowa legislature’s responsibility to pass the Marriage Amendment to the Iowa Constitution, clarifying that marriage is between one man and one woman, to give the power that the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself back to the people of Iowa. Along with a constitutional amendment, the legislature must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca due to the Supreme Court’s latest experiment in social engineering.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council: “We urge Iowans to contact their legislators and urge them to move quickly to pass a constitutional amendment protecting marriage, joining the twenty-nine states that have already defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman in their state constitutions.”

Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum: “We can never allow the definition of marriage to simply mean two consenting persons who agree to share quarters and start applying to the government for benefits. Eagle Forum calls on the Iowa state legislature to work to adopt a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman only, and by subsequently passing a state law that withdraws jurisdiction from the state courts over this issue.”

Concerned Women for America: “Iowans need to look to the people of California for encouragement and begin working today to pass an amendment by asking our legislators to allow us a vote on an amendment. Sitting legislators should not only support a bill that would allow Iowans a say in the vote, but they should demand their constituents’ voices be heard by sponsoring the bill and offering to bring it to the floor. Any legislator not willing to sponsor such a bill is proving their loyalty is with political agendas and not with the people of Iowa or the intent of our Founding Fathers.”

This case, as with most other civil rights actions before it, implicates these broad constitutional principles of governing. The legislature, in carrying out its constitutional role to make public policy decisions, enacted a law that effectively excludes gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage. The executive branch of government, in carrying out its role to execute the law, enforced this statute through a county official who refused to issue marriage licenses to six same-sex couples. These Iowans, believing that the law is inconsistent with certain constitutional mandates, exercised their constitutional right to petition the courts for redress of their grievance. …

A statute inconsistent with the Iowa Constitution must be declared void, even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion. …

Our responsibility, however, is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time. The framers of the Iowa Constitution knew, as did the drafters of the United States Constitution, that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” and as our constitution “endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom” and equality. See Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 578–79, 123 S. Ct. 2472, 2484, 156 L. Ed. 2d 508, 526 (2003) (acknowledging intent of framers of Federal Constitution that Constitution endure and be interpreted by future generations); Callender v. Skiles, 591 N.W.2d 182, 190 (Iowa 1999) (“Our constitution is not merely tied to tradition, but recognizes the changing nature of society.”). …

The primary constitutional principle at the heart of this case is the doctrine of equal protection. The concept of equal protection is deeply rooted in our national and state history, but that history reveals this concept is often expressed far more easily than it is practiced. For sure, our nation has struggled to achieve a broad national consensus on equal protection of the laws when it has been forced to apply that principle to some of the institutions, traditions, and norms woven into the fabric of our society. This observation is important today because it reveals equal protection can only be defined by the standards of each generation. See Cass R. Sunstein, Sexual Orientation and the Constitution: A Note on the Relationship Between Due Process and Equal Protection, 55 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1161, 1163 (1988) (“[T]he Equal Protection Clause looks forward, serving to invalidate practices that were widespread at the time of its ratification and that were expected to endure.”). …

This issue comes to us with the same importance as our landmark cases of the past. The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue centered on a fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans. This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage? …

Therefore, with respect to the subject and purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, we find that the plaintiffs are similarly situated compared to heterosexual persons. Plaintiffs are in committed and loving relationships, many raising families, just like heterosexual couples. Moreover, official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities, just as it does for heterosexual couples. Society benefits, for example, from providing samesex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples. In short, for purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, which are designed to bring a sense of order to the legal relationships of committed couples and their families in myriad ways, plaintiffs are similarly situated in every important respect, but for their sexual orientation. As indicated above, this distinction cannot defeat the application of equal protection analysis through the application of the similarly situated concept because, under this circular approach, all distinctions would evade equal protection review. Therefore, with respect to the government’s purpose of “providing an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of persons,” same–sex couples are similarly situated to opposite–sex couples. …

In sum, this history of discrimination suggests any legislative burdens placed on lesbian and gay people as a class “are more likely than others to reflect deep-seated prejudice rather than legislative rationality in pursuit of some legitimate objective.” Plyler, 457 U.S. at 216 n.14, 102 S. Ct. at 2394 n.14, 72 L. Ed. 2d at 799 n.14. This observation favors an elevated scrutiny to uncover any such prejudice. …

State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. Knowlton v. Baumhover, 182 Iowa 691, 710, 166 N.W. 202, 208 (1918). This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state. As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more. …

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires. …

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