Friday, April 03, 2009

Love and Justice in the Heartland

Iowa becomes third state to allow
same-gender couples to marry

I must admit that this news caught me by surprise this morning. But I definitely feel happy and encouraged by it.

Following is how Associated Press writer Amy Lorentzen reports on this latest development in the struggle for marriage equality.


Iowa High Court Legalizes Gay Marriage in State

By Any Lorentzen
Associated Press
April 3, 2009

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa’s Supreme Court legalized gay marriage Friday in a unanimous and emphatic decision that makes Iowa the third state — and first in the nation's heartland — to allow same-sex couples to wed.

In its decision, the high court upheld a lower court’s ruling that found a state law restricting marriage to between a man and woman only violated Iowa’s constitution.

“If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded,” the court stated in its ruling.

The decision set off celebration among the state’s gay-marriage proponents.

“Iowa is about justice, and that’s what happened here today,” said Laura Fefchak, who was hosting a verdict party in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale with partner of 13 years, Nancy Robinson.

Robinson added: “To tell the truth, I didn't think I’d see this day.”

Richard Socarides, an attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights to President Clinton, said the ruling carries extra significance coming from Iowa.

“It’s a big win because, coming from Iowa, it represents the mainstreaming of gay marriage. And it shows that despite attempts stop gay marriage through right-wing ballot initiatives, like in California, the courts will continue to support the case for equal rights for gays,” he said.

Its opponents were equally dismayed.

“I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways, and yet the first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote,” said Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative group the Iowa Family Policy Center.

“This is an issue that will define (lawmakers’) leadership. This is not a side issue.”

The Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr., pastor at the Maple Street Baptist Church in Des Moines, went to the Supreme Court building to hear of the decision.

“It’s a perversion and it opens the door to more perversions,” Ratliff said. “What's next?”

Technically, the decision will take about 21 days to be considered final and a request for a rehearing could be filed within that period.

But Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said his office will not ask for a rehearing, meaning the court’s decision should take effect after that three-week period.

“Our Supreme Court has decided it, and they make the decision as to what the law is and we follow Supreme Court decisions,” Sarcone said. “This is not a personal thing. We have an obligation to the law to defend the recorder, and that’s what we do.”

That means it will be at least several weeks before gay and lesbian couples can seek marriage licenses.

Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, said the decision addresses a complicated and emotional issue.

“The next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the attorney general, before reacting to what it means for Iowa,” Culver said in a statement.

The case had been working its way through Iowa’s court system since 2005 when Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization, filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay and lesbian Iowa couples who were denied marriage licenses. Some of their children are also listed as plaintiffs.

The suit named then-Polk County recorder and registrar Timothy Brien.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling upheld an August 2007 decision by Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson, who found that a state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the state’s constitutional rights of equal protection.

The Polk County attorney’s office, arguing on behalf of Brien, claimed that Hanson’s ruling violates the separation of powers and said the issue should be left to the Legislature.

Lambda Legal planned to comment on the ruling later Friday. A request for comment from the Polk County attorney’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

Around the nation, only Massachusetts and Connecticut permit same-sex marriage. California, which briefly allowed gay marriage before a voter initiative in November repealed it, allows domestic partnerships.

New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont also offer civil unions, which provide many of the same rights that come with marriage. New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and legislators there and in New Jersey are weighing whether to offer marriage. A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Vermont has cleared the Legislature but may be vetoed by the governor.

The ruling in Iowa’s same-sex marriage case came more quickly than many observers had anticipated, with some speculating after oral arguments that it could take a year or more for a decision.

- Amy Lorentzen


Update 1: OutFront Minnesota Celebrates Historic Ruling in Iowa

Following is a media release from OutFront Minnesota.

In a unanimous ruling issued April 3, the Iowa Supreme Court held that the equal-protection guarantees of the Iowa constitution required full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

“This powerful ruling from our neighbor to the south will have a positive effect on the conversation regarding marriage equality in Minnesota,” predicted OutFront Minnesota Executive Director Amy Johnson. “Travel east or west, and you run into states with constitutional prohibitions on all forms of legal recognition for our families. Travel north or south, and you run into jurisdictions with full marriage equality. We at OutFront Minnesota believe that our neighbors will see that Canada and Iowa have provided us the better example of how to address the legal issues faced by same-sex couples and their families.”

Johnson noted that the Minnesota legislature is considering several bills which would address challenges same-sex couples experience. “We believe Minnesota’s past negative court rulings make clear that the best route to full marriage equality runs through the legislature and governor, and not through the courts.” Last summer, OutFront Minnesota joined Rainbow Families/Family Equality Council and Project 515 in issuing a joint statement discouraging marriage-equality litigation in Minnesota.

“We join our friends in Iowa in celebrating this historic ruling,” Johnson continued, observing that this was the first such ruling in the Midwest, and the first unanimous state supreme court ruling in favor of full marriage equality. “OutFront Minnesota looks forward to the day that a pro-equality legislature delivers a marriage-equality bill to a pro-equality governor.” Johnson encouraged fair-minded Minnesotans to join OutFront Minnesota at its annual JustFair Lobby Day on Thursday, April 23, to encourage further support for pro-GLBT legislation in Minnesota.

Update 2: Thanks to Michael in Norfolk, the following from the Iowa Supreme Court ruling has been brought to my attention. As you’ll see it concerns the “religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate.”

. . . While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling. . . . Consequently, we address the religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate as a means to fully explain our rationale for rejecting the dual-gender requirement of the marriage statute.

State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. . . . 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.

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. . . . 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.

Image 1: Sam Cullmam.

Image 2: Laura Fefchak, right, and Nancy Robinson, center, of Urbandale, Iowa, react to the ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court in Urbandale, Iowa on Friday, April 3, 2009. Gay marriage advocates began celebrating early Friday after the Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling finding that the state's same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples. (AP Photo/David Purdy)

Image 3: This February 6, 2009 file photo shows Euan Bear of Bakersfield, Vt., holding a sign during a gathering of gay marriage supporters in Montpelier, Vt. 'Genderless marriage' or 'marriage equality?' The buzzwords provide a good clue of where someone stands on same-sex marriage. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

Image 4: Shelly Bailes, left, gets a hug from Ellen Pontac, while attending a rally against Proposition 8, the measure that bans same-sex marriage, held at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, March 30, 2009. The rally was held at the completion of a 100-mile, five day walk that started in San Francisco, to bring attention to the lawsuit to repeal Prop. 8 currently before the California State Supreme Court. Bailes and Pontac were married June 2008 after the state Supreme Court overturned a 2000 ballot initiative banning same-sex marriages. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

1 comment:

kevin57 said...

This decision in Iowa is both significant and not surprising. Iowa is, indeed, in the heartland of American, not only geographically, but culturally. Iowans have never been accused of being part of either the "Blame American first" crowd or the "Culture Warrior" crowd. Recall it was Iowa that propelled Obama as a frontrunner of the Democratic race.

As a lifetime Illinoisan--right next door--I've always noted in Iowans a genuine, "Live and let live" attitude when it comes to personal morality. I predict that IF an Prop 8 initiative is put on the ballot, they would likely follow the California pattern and narrowly approve it, but the difference is that I doubt Iowans will work up the "outrage" that happened in CA to put a ballot initiative before the voters in the first place. Notice that I say Iowans won't work up the energy to do anything about this. Now watch to see if certain outside groups (like those who were very active in CA) come in to whip up enough of a frenzy to get something on the ballot.