Marriage Equality Ruling in Iowa
April 5, 2009 by Bryan
The ruling, viewed nationally and at home as a victory for the gay rights movement and a setback for social conservatives, means Iowa’s 5,800 gay couples can legally marry in Iowa beginning April 24.
There are no residency rules for marriage in Iowa, so the rule would apply to any couple who wanted to travel to Iowa.
The decision makes Iowa the first Midwestern state, and the third in the country, to allow same-sex marriages. Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, financed the court battle and represented six couples who challenged Iowa’s 10-year-old ban on gay marriage.
Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady, who wrote the unanimous decision, at one point invoked the court’s first-ever decision, in 1839, which struck down slavery laws 17 years before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a slave owner to treat a person as property.
Iowa’s gay marriage ban “is unconstitutional, because the county has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage,” Cady wrote in the 69-page opinion that seemed to dismiss the concept of civil unions as an option for gay couples.
“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” Cady wrote.
The ruling, however, also addressed what it called the “religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate,” and said judges must remain outside the fray.
Some Iowa religions are strongly opposed to same-sex marriages, the justices noted, while some support the notion.
“Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring that government avoids them,” the opinion says.