The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided Friday that a law declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, making its state the first in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage.
Iowa's court ruled that same-sex marriage would become legal on April 24, and the law would apply to any couple who wanted to travel to Iowa. The county attorney who defended the law said he would not seek a rehearing. The only alternative for opponents appears to be a constitutional amendment, which would be considered in 2011 at the earliest.
To change the Iowa Constitution requires a resolution to be adopted in the exact same form by the House and the Senate of two consecutive General Assemblies before the issue would go before voters for ratification, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
The Vermont House voted this week to allow same-sex couples to marry in the state, but the governor is expected to veto the decision next week. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California State Supreme Courts also moved to legalize same-sex marriage, but voters in California overturned California's decision in November 2008.
“California’s vote came much quicker, so I suspect they had a much easier time,” said Kim Conger, a political scientist at Iowa State University. “I think it’s going to be harder fight three years from now because there will be a lot of gay, married people in the state.”
An Iowa Poll in February 2008 showed that 62 percent of Iowans believed marriage should be only between one man and one woman. Thirty-two percent said they believed same-sex marriages should be allowed, while 6 percent were unsure, according to the Des Moines Register.
In its opinion, the court addressed religious opposition to same-sex marriage, saying that a religious denomination can still define marriage as between a man and a woman, but civil marriage “reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.”
“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,” the seven justices said in a summary of their opinion. “Civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individual.”
The court said that its desire to protect religious freedom is consistent with preventing government from endorsing any religious view, which opponents found troubling.
“The notion that the only reason one could have an opposition to same-sex marriage is because of religion is pretty preposterous,” said John Eastman, dean of the law school at Chapman University in California. “And to discount religion or to say it’s not a legitimate part of the discourse is not only erroneous but dangerous.”
The justices referred to Iowa’s history on several landmark decisions in its opinion. “Since territorial times, Iowa has given meaning to this constitutional provision, striking blows to slavery and segregation, and recognizing women’s rights,” the justices wrote. “The court found the issue of same-sex marriage comes to it with the same importance as the landmark cases of the past.”
Iowa’s court case began in 2005, when six same-sex couples filed a lawsuit because a county recorder would not accept their marriage license applications. The decision still surprised many because it was the first state in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage.
“It is known as a socially conservative state, but it has socially liberal pockets as well,” said David Masci, senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. “I think you’ll see evangelicals and social conservatives start to mobilize. For people who are supportive of same-sex marriage, it has to be a very positive development in terms of mainstreaming the debate.”
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