Same-sex marriage in Iowa (SSM)
The Iowa Supreme
approving SSM on 2009-APR-03
What were the court's options?
The court's task was to select one of two main options concerning SSM:
To allow all loving couples who wish to commit themselves to mutual
support for the rest of their lives to marry each other, or|
||To stick with the status-quo and continue to make only "traditional marriages" available.
These are marriages between people of the same gender. This would result in two
classes of citizens in Iowa:
A superior class with full privileges. composed of loving, committed,
opposite-sex couples who would be allowed to marry.
A second and lower class of citizens with reduced privileges. These
would include those involved in a loving committed same-sex relationship who
will not be allowed to marry. They would be viewed by the state as
roommates and their children would be regarded as illegitimate.
The court ruling:
Most of the justices on the Iowa Supreme Court are conservatives appointed by
a Republican governor. In spite of this, the constitutional aspects to this case
forced them to conclude that full marriage equality must be made
available to loving, committed same-sex couples. The state constitution itself
In reaching this conclusion,
||Section 595.2 of the Iowa Code was passed in 1998. It specifically limited marriage to one man and one woman, with
||The equal protection clause in the state's constitution. It requires
people who are "similarly situated" to be treated equally.
As expected, they found that the two were in conflict. Since the
constitution automatically outweighs any piece of legislation, the justices had no choice but to
declare the 1998 law unconstitutional. This they did unanimously: 7 to 0. To do
otherwise would have been a violation of their oath of office which requires them to
uphold the constitution. It seemed to many observers to be a no-brainer.
The court wrote in a summary of their decision:
"The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a
woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. ... Equal
protection under the Iowa Constitution is essentially a direction that all
persons similarly situated should be treated alike. Since territorial times,
Iowa has given meaning to this constitutional provision, striking blows to
slavery and segregation, and recognizing
women's rights. The court found the
issue of same-sex marriage comes to it with the same importance as the
landmark cases of the past." 1
The justices also wrote in the summary:
"We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law. 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 concept of equal protection, is deeply rooted in our national and
state history, but that history reveals this concept is often expressed far
more easily than it is practiced. ..."
"... the County offered no governmental reason underlying the tradition of
limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. ... The court found no argument to support
the conclusion that a goal of additional
procreation would be substantially furthered by the exclusion of gays and
lesbians from civil marriage. ... there was no evidence to support that
excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage makes opposite-sex
marriage more stable. ... Recognizing the sincere religious belief held by
some that the 'sanctity of marriage' would be undermined by the inclusion of
gay and lesbian couples, the court nevertheless noted that such views are not
the only religious views of
marriage. Other, equally sincere groups have espoused strong religious views
yielding the opposite conclusion. These contrasting opinions, the court finds,
explain the absence of any religious-based rationale to test the
Iowa's same-sex marriage statute." 1
The ruling itself covers 69 pages. It is well worth reading, Pages 63 to 67
may be of particular interest. The section titled "Religious Opposition to
Same-sex Marriage" discusses the opposition of faith groups to marriage
equality. In their words:
"... the reason for the exclusion of gay and
lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the county: religious
opposition to same-sex marriage. 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. ..."
2, Page 63,64
"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. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union
between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister,
priest, rabbi or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the
person's religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other
religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in
the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. 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."2, Page 66,67
In Section J of their ruling, titled "Constitutional Infirmity," The
"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.
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. 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. Iowa Code section 595.2 denies gay and
lesbian people the equal protection of the law promised by the Iowa
Constitution." 2, Page 67
Consequently, the language in Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil
marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the
remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner
allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil
marriage. 2, Page 69
The court decision surprised a lot of people:
Pete Williams, the justice correspondent at NBC News said: "If you had to
ask Americans what the next state would be to approve gay marriage, after
Connecticut, after Massachusetts and California--which ultimately repealed
it--I think it would surprise many people to say that the answer would be
||OneNewsNow is a fundamentalist Christian news source. They conducted a
poll of their readers, asking: "Are you surprised that a state in America's
heartland has now legalized homosexual 'marriage'?" Results from 10,975
readers as of 2009-APR-04 were: 61% yes, 39% no. Note that OneNewsNow enclosed
the word marriage in quotation marks. This is common practice among social and
religious conservatives to show their refusal to accept SSM as a valid form of
marriage. We normally delete the quotation marks because we feel that it
denigrates loving, committed same-sex couples. We left them in place this time
because it was part of a poll, and the precise wording and punctuation of
polls can drastically alter the results.
Results of a very unscientific poll:
The Des Moines Register conducted a poll of the visitors to their website.
They asked the question "Do you agree with the decision to legalize same-sex
marriage?" 5 Results were"
||41% "Yes, I agree"
||59% "No, I disagree"
They added a note to readers at the bottom of the poll: "Clearly this is not
a scientific poll ? and it is allowing people to vote multiple times."
It is interesting to note that the total number of votes made on this poll as
of 2009-APR-27 was 6.53 million. The total population of Idaho is only 3.00
million according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 6
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Iowa Supreme Court Rules in Marriage Case," Des Moines Register,
http://www.desmoinesregister.com This is a PDF file.
Full opinion, Case # 07-1499: Katherine Varnum et al. & Timothy Brien, at:
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/ This is a PDF file.
Kevin Canessa Jr., "Lesbian & Gay Marriage Legal in Iowa--47 More to
Go," DiversityInc, 2009-APR-03, at:
"OneNewsNow.com Poll," 2009-APR-04, at:
Results of the poll are at:
U.S. Census Bureau population data for Iowa is at:
Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-APR-03
Latest update: 2009-APR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson