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Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Same-Sex Marriage Ban; GOP Pushes for Amendment PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 03 April 2009 13:27

In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a district-court decision legalizing same-sex marriages, giving Iowa three weeks before it joins Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only states in the nation that allow gays and lesbians to marry. Vermont could also soon replace its first-in-the-nation civil-unions law with one that allows same-sex marriage beginning in September.

"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 people from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."

The case in question, Varnum v. Brien, was filed in December 2005 by Lambda Legal on behalf of six same-sex couples who sought to marry in Iowa. The lawsuit argues that constitutional rights to equal protection and due process make it unlawful to bar same-sex couples from marrying. A Polk County District Court judge in August 2007 ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples access to marriage; the Iowa Supreme Court upheld that ruling Friday.

"Today is a red-letter day for the state of Iowa," said Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines), an openly gay legislator. "As a lifelong Iowan, I know that fair-minded people throughout our state support equality for all. I have never been more proud of all the Iowans who have worked continuously for the advancement of human rights for all."

Republicans called for the legislature to immediately debate a constitutional amendment specifying that marriage between one man and one woman is the only legal union valid or recognized in the state. Constitutional amendments must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies, followed by a vote of the people.

"I believe marriage is between one man and one woman and am disappointed in the ruling of the Supreme Court," said House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha). "In 1998, the legislature overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation protecting marriage as between a man and a woman. There is now a divide between the legislative and judicial branches, and Iowans should be permitted to weigh in and have the final say on this question."

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) on Thursday called it "exceedingly unlikely" that lawmakers will rush to pass legislation in the closing days of the session in reaction to the decision.

Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy issued a joint statement Friday morning hailing the ruling: "Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights," they said. "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."

Immense interest in the case increased traffic to the Iowa Supreme Court's Web site Friday morning, temporarily crashing the server.