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Happy Anniversary, Iowa
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/26/13
Last updated on: 04/27/13
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Congratulations, Iowa, on the fourth anniversary of marriage equality. In a unanimous ruling announced on April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down Iowa's law banning same-sex marriage on equal protection grounds. Same-sex couples began receiving marriage licenses on April 27, 2009. A delightful video from the Human Rights Campaign congratulating Hawkeyes on their anniversary notes that "the cows still give milk, the wheat and corn still grow high, and puppy dogs are still cute."

The Iowa Supreme Court decision, authored by Justice Mark Cady, stemmed from a 2005 lawsuit filed by six gay and lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses by the Polk County recorder's office. The seven justices affirmed the appellate ruling of Polk County Judge Robert Hanson that Iowa's ban on same-sex marriages treated gay and lesbian couples unequally under the law.

In a carefully reasoned and firmly stated decision, the court declared, "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."

Acknowledging that the decision may not be a popular one in a conservative state, the court insisted on its duty to uphold the Iowa constitution. "We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law. Faithfulness to that duty requires us to hold Iowa's marriage statute, Iowa Code section 595.2, violates the Iowa Constitution. To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our constitutional duty."

The Court rejected civil unions as an alternative to marriage.

It ordered that marriage licenses be issued to same-sex couples as soon as the decision is officially promulgated. It further ordered that the language in Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.

The Iowa decision was the first in favor of marriage equality from a heartland state.

Although polls indicated that a large majority of Iowans were opposed to same-sex marriage in 2009, passing a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court's decision proved too difficult to bring to fruition. The process to amend the Iowa constitution requires approval of a proposed amendment in two sessions of the legislature before being submitted to the voters. The Democratic leaders of both houses of the Iowa legislature vowed not to allow consideration of a proposed amendment. Even after the Republicans took control of one house of the legislature in 2010, a constitutional amendment was not introduced since the leader of the Senate vowed to block it.

However, the National Organization for Marriage and other conservative forces successfully targeted three members of the Iowa Supreme Court for removal from the bench in 2010. Their success indicated continuing anger at the Court for its ruling.

It should be noted, however, that the three jurists refused to campaign on their own behalf, feeling that that would be unseemly. They subsequently were honored by the Kennedy Center with Profiles in Courage Awards.

In November 2012, an attempt to remove another member of the Court failed. And recent polls have shown that a majority of Iowans now support same-sex marriage, so it seems that marriage equality is now safe is Iowa.

In honor of the fourth anniversary of marriage equality in Iowa, the Human Rights Campaign issued the humorous video below.

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