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In a precedent-setting ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court Friday upheld a lower court decision legalizing same-sex marriages in Iowa.
The unanimous landmark decision is expected to carry national implications as Iowa becomes the first Midwest state to grant full legal standing to gay and lesbian couples and only the fourth state nationally to confer marital status beyond traditional one-man, one woman unions.
“We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective,” the opinion stated. “The Legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification.”
The case was brought by six same-sex couples who argued that Iowa’s law defining marriage as only between one man and one woman violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Iowa Constitution.
Backers hailed the decision as an important legal victory.
“The ACLU of Iowa congratulates the justices in the majority for adding another chapter to Iowa’s long and proud tradition of visionary leadership on fairness and equality in America,” said Ben Stone, ACLU of Iowa executive director.
“Like the justices in the mid-1800s who courageously made Iowa a legal haven for desegregation and equality nearly a century before the federal government did so, the majority today showed the world that Iowa is again the leaders in America’s quest for justice and fairness.”
Opponents decried the court decision as a new move to undermine the fabric of traditional families in Iowa.
“Our worse fears have been realized,” said U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, who helped write the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act while he was a state senator in the Iowa Legislature.
“I can’t think of a more activist decision that has been made by this Iowa Supreme Court,” King said while appearing on a WHO-AM radio talk show.
“It turns immediately Iowa into the Mecca for same-sex marriages — a destination state,” he said. “There will be weekend packages that are being planned right now. It will be the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage for America if the Legislature doesn’t act now.”
Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, an openly gay state legislator, called Friday a “red-letter day” because the state’s highest court has upheld equal protection in Iowa.
“Thousands of Iowans who have worked hard, raised families, and paid taxes will now be afforded the opportunity to marry,” he said.
“I have never been more proud of all the Iowans who have worked continuously for the advancement of human rights for all,” McCoy added. “Legislative leaders have made it clear that Iowa will not go backwards when it comes to civil rights.
“Today Iowa is sending a message to young people, both gay and straight. If you are looking for a great place to live, a place where people treat their neighbors with respect, come to Iowa to work, to invest and to raise a family,” he added.
Senate GOP Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton called the decision “disappointing on many levels” and said it points up the need for traditional one-man, one-woman marriage to be protected by a constitutional amendment.
“Though the court has made their decision, I believe every Iowan should have a voice on this matter and that is why the Iowa Legislature should immediately act to pass a constitutional amendment that protects traditional marriage, keeps it as a sacred bond only between one man and one woman and gives every Iowan a chance to have their say through a vote of the people,” he said.
To change the Iowa Constitution requires a resolution to be adopted in the exact same form by the House and the Senate of two consecutive General Assemblies before the issue would go before voters for ratification. The earliest such a resolution would clear that process would be the 2011 sesssion.
Top Democratic lawmakers said Thursday the Legislature likely will not address the same-sex marriage issue before they adjourn their 2009 regular session, possibly as early as next week.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Des Moines, issued a joint statement Friday saying the unanimous court outcome maintains Iowa’s tradition as a leader in guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens.
“The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight,” they said in the joint statement.
“When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency,” they said.
“Today, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed those Iowa values by ruling that gay and lesbian Iowans have all the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as any other Iowan,” the statement added. “Today, we congratulate the thousands of Iowans who now can express their love for each other and have it recognized by our laws.”
During oral arguments before Supreme Court justices last year, opposing attorneys framed the Varnum vs. Brien case as one that pitted society’s ability to draw reasonable boundaries against an infringement on the rights of a minority group.
The case involved six same-sex Iowa couples who sued Polk County Recorder Timothy Brien in 2005, after his office denied them marriage licenses. Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson sided with the couples in a ruling last year, but he suspended his decision pending Friday’s decision.
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa – April 3, 2009
To see more of The Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.gazetteonline.com.
Copyright (c) 2009, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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