In a unanimous ruling issued Friday morning, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a state law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, saying the law violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The court ordered the state to begin “allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage,” becoming the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The court ruling backed a decision by a lower court that had ruled six same-sex couples were wrongly denied marriage licenses by an official in Polk County. Except for the law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the six Iowa couples met the legal requirements to marry, the court said. Justices were forced to overturn that law if it violated the state constitution, “even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion,” according to a summary of the decision.
The court’s decision should take effect in 21 days because the Polk County attorney, who argued against the six same-sex couples, said the county attorney’s office won’t ask for a rehearing, The Associated Press reports. Iowa doesn’t have a marriage residency requirement, which means gay and lesbian couples from around the country could travel to the state to be legally married.
“I think it’s significant because Iowa is considered a Midwest state in the mainstream of American thought,” Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay rights, told the Des Moines Register. “Unlike states on the coasts, there’s nothing more American than Iowa. As they say during the presidential caucuses, ‘As Iowa goes, so goes the nation.’”
“The decision made by the Iowa Supreme Court today to allow gay marriage in Iowa is disappointing on many levels,” the state’s Senate minority leader, Republican Paul McKinley, said in a statement. He called on the Legislature to “immediately pass” a state 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.”
The Legislature’s majority leaders, both Democrats, rejected the notion of an amendment to overturn the court’s decision. “When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy said in a joint statement. “It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.”
From the decision declaring the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, written by Justice Mark S. Cady:
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 legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification. There is no material fact, genuinely in dispute, that can affect this determination.
Read a detailed analysis of the court’s ruling by our sister publication, The Iowa Independent, here.
Because the Iowa court’s Web servers were strained from Friday morning — with upwards of 350,000 visits to the site before the ruling was issued, a court spokesman said — The Iowa Independent has uploaded a PDF of the decision here.
Read all the breaking news coverage on the same-sex marriage decision by the Iowa Supreme Court at our sister site The Iowa Independent.