By Scott Stewart
Gay couples looking to wed can no longer travel to San Francisco to get hitched, but Council Bluffs is a different matter.On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously overturned the state’s statute that limited marriage to between a male and a female. The decision will allow same-sex couples to get married as soon as April 24.
“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,” according to the court’s decision. “The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification.”
The court cited the equal protection clause of the Iowa constitution, referencing decisions made by the court regarding emancipation, segregation and women’s rights before they were decided on a national level.
“In each of those instances, our state approached a fork in the road towards fulfillment of our constitution’s ideals and reaffirmed the ‘absolute equality of all’ persons before the as ‘the very foundation principle of our government,'” according to the decision. “So, today, this court again faces an important issue that hinges on our definition of equal protection. This issue comes to us with the same importance as our landmark cases of the past.”
University of Iowa law professor Ann Estin said the ruling is not surprising given Iowa’s history of civil rights.
“I think a lot of people around the country will be surprised to see this ruling in Iowa,” Estin said. “But the truth is, Iowa has a long history of being progressive on civil rights issues.”
The ruling brings Iowa together with Connecticut and Massachusetts as the only three states to permit same-sex marriages. California had allowed same-sex marriages, but Proposition 8 repealed it in November.
Three other states – Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey – permit civil unions with the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, and legislation is being considered in all three states to permit full-fledged same-sex marriages.
Five more states – California, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Washington – as well as the District of Columbia have domestic partnerships or other arrangements giving some rights to same-sex couples.
Twenty-nine states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The ruling produced mixed reactions across Iowa and the rest of the nation.
“Today’s victory is a testament to the strength of love, hope and courage – our clients have shown an abundance of all three for many years and now at long last they will be able to marry,” said Camilla Taylor, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal Defense, who represented the 12 Iowans who brought the suit.
On the other side of the issue, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, issued a statement condemning the Supreme Court as activist judges and calling for their resignations.
“Now it is the Iowa legislature’s responsibility to pass the Marriage Amendment to the Iowa Constitution, clarifying that marriage is between one man and one woman, to give the power that the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself back to the people of Iowa,” King said.
“Along with a constitutional amendment, the legislature must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca due to the Supreme Court’s latest experiment in social engineering.”
Couples from across the country are expected to travel to Iowa starting later this month to get married, according to research conducted by the Williams Institute at the University of California in Los Angeles.
In an April 2008 report, the institute estimated 57,640 same-sex couples would be married in Iowa, including 2,917 couples from Iowa itself and 997 couples from Nebraska.
Overall, the institute estimates allowing same-sex marriage will generate an additional $5.3 million annually for Iowa, adjusting for taxes, public assistance, benefits and other economic considerations that go along with the ruling.
Caitie Wegener, president of UNO Queers and Allies, said Iowa has generally been progressive and she doesn’t foresee the state reversing the decision, although she is still concerned.
“I was really worried about whether there’d be an appeal and it would be like California all over again,” Wegener said. “I really think that this is going to stick. At least, I hope so.”
Wegener said everyone should be afforded the same legal rights and opportunities for self-determination.
“I think that with every generation that passes, marriage is constantly being redefined and transforming into something different,” Wegener said. “If it stayed the same, we’d still be living in the 1700s.”
This report contains material from UWIRE.