Same-sex marriage in Iowa: support for court decision

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Same-sex marriage in Iowa (SSM)

Support for the Iowa Supreme Court
ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

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See also an essay on opposition to the court ruling

The ruling:

The justices of the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously on 2009-APR-04 that:

"...  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. 1, Page 69

Reactions to the court ruling from those in support of marriage equality:

bullet A group of same-sex couples met in a hotel in Des Moines. Kate Varnum, 34, reached over to Trish Varnum and said: "I'd like to introduce you to my fiancée. Today I am proud to be a lifelong Iowan. ... We are blessed to live in Iowa." 2
bullet Ed Fallon, a former state lawmaker, said:
"Iowa has always been on the cutting edge of civil rights, whether it's regarding desegregation of schools or the rights of African-Americans to be full citizens. "This is huge. And I think it's a testament to the fairness and sense of decency that Iowans have." 12
bullet Laura Fefchak, an Iowa lesbian, said: "Iowa is about justice, and that's what happened here today." 3
bullet Suzanne B. Goldberg, clinical professor and director of the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic, said:

"This is a tremendous victory for gay and lesbian couples and for all who care about equality. The court recognized that the state's equality guarantee cannot tolerate having rules that single out gay couples and exclude them from marriage." 4

bullet Carolyn Jenison, executive director of One Iowa, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, said:

"Today's victory assures that all Iowans have access to marriage and the security, dignity and protections it provides. We extend our best wishes to the couples who choose to recognize their commitment to each other through marriage." 4

bullet Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, an openly gay state legislator, called Friday a "red-letter day" because the state's highest court has upheld equal protection in Iowa.

"Thousands of Iowans who have worked hard, raised families, and paid taxes will now be afforded the opportunity to marry. Today Iowa is sending a message to young people, both gay and straight. If you are looking for a great place to live, a place where people treat their neighbors with respect, come to Iowa to work, to invest and to raise a family." 4

Actually, he is clearly wrong. Polls show that the majority of adults in Iowa oppose marriage equality. It is the Supreme Court of Iowa who promotes treating neighbors's relationships with respect and equality.

bullet Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force wrote:

"This ruling marks another watershed moment in the struggle for full equality. No longer will same-sex couples have their relationships treated as less than equal by the state. The court rightly affirmed that no loving committed couple should be denied marriage and the critical protections only marriage can provide. This ruling also affirms our common humanity by providing same-sex couples with the opportunity to participate in the shared hopes and dreams of making a public commitment to the person they love. We are thrilled that equality has come to Iowa!"

"We extend our heartfelt thanks to the plaintiffs and groups that made today's victory possible, especially to Lambda Legal for serving as lead legal counsel, and One Iowa for its statewide public education and advocacy to promote the freedom to marry. We know that many fair-minded Iowans -- and fair-minded people across the country -- will be celebrating with us in response to today's decision." 5

bullet Americans United for the Separation of Church and State issued a press release:

"Today's Iowa Supreme Court decision striking down a state law banning same-sex marriage is a welcome reaffirmation of religious liberty, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State."

"In its unanimous ruling, the Iowa high court makes it clear that religious denominations have a constitutional right to set their own rules about marriage but that civil law should reflect equal protection for all citizens and not be anchored in religious dogma."

" 'The court has reaffirmed religious liberty,' said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. 'The justices reminded us that religious groups are free to marry whomever they choose, but civil law cannot be based on any group's theology." 6

bullet Laura Fefchak, was hosting a "verdict party" in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale with Nancy Robinson.
They have been in a committed relationship for 13 years. Laura said: "Iowa is about justice, and that's what happened here today,. Robinson added: "To tell the truth, I didn't think I'd see this day." 7
bullet Richard Socarides, an attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights to President Clinton, said: "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."  8
bullet Derek C. Araujo, Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry of the Council for Secular Humanism commented in their online news:

"The opinion in Varnum v. Brien is an important victory for all who value equality under the law, as well as for those who oppose efforts to enshrine religious prejudice into law."

Last year the Center for Inquiry's legal department filed a joint amicus brief in Iowa Supreme Court defending the lower court's exclusion of junk-science, in the form of purported 'expert' opinions by conservative religionists and other pseudo-scientists. These so-called 'experts' claimed to have scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge about alleged dangers of same-sex marriage. In reality, the 'experts' included religious studies scholars, a historian with ties to a conservative religious advocacy group, and a self-described expert in 'technoscience' who admitted to relying in her 'moral intuitions' and 'examined emotions' to reach her conclusions. The district court found that the state's proffered 'experts' lacked the appropriate experience or training in the relevant fields of social science, child development, psychology, or psychiatry to support their opinions. CFI and other friends-of-the-court argued that the district court properly excluded the junk science, which amounted to mere personal opinion disguised as scientific evidence. The state opposed CFI's arguments, with assistance from attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay Religious Right organization based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Astonishingly, the Iowa Supreme Court found that the district court should have admitted the disputed testimony as relevant opinion on 'legislative' and 'constitutional' facts, to which the formal rules of evidence do not apply. Happily, however, the junk science appears to have had little influence on the Iowa Supreme Court's ultimate decision. Considering all evidence before it, the Court unanimously rejected the purported experts' opinions:

'Much of the testimony presented by the County was in the form of opinions by various individuals that same-sex marriage would harm the institution of marriage and also harm children raised in same-sex marriages. . . . Almost every professional group that has studied the issue indicates children are not harmed when raised by same-sex couples, but to the contrary, benefit from them. In Iowa, agencies that license foster parents have found same-sex couples to be good and acceptable parents.' 

The Court declared that in light of the total evidence, the district court's exclusion of the purported expert testimony 'is of no consequence' under the Court's standard of review. 9

bullet Rev. William Sinkford,  President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), issued a statement on 2009-APR-03:

"I rejoice at the Supreme Court?s unanimous decision to affirm the rights of same-sex couples to marry. This ruling, based on the equal protection guarantee in the Iowa constitution, recognizes the necessity for equal treatment under the law of all citizens. This decision will strengthen committed same-sex couples and their families in Iowa, and bring us one step closer to full legal equality for all Americans. A few days ago Sweden became the fifth European country to recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry, and Americans can take pride that we continue our climb toward the same goal."

"I want to thank the courageous Iowa justices and to applaud the many Unitarian Universalists who have worked tirelessly for marriage equality. The plaintiffs Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan were married in the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines by Rev. Mark Stringer. I am proud that a Unitarian Universalist congregation honored the commitment of these two exceptional young men and supported them in their marriage and in their struggle for legal recognition."

"Today we celebrate, but we know that the struggle for marriage equality is far from over. Until all of our nation?s marriage statutes are free of discrimination, the Unitarian Universalist Association will stand on the side of love and advocate for full legal rights for committed same-sex couples." 10

bullet Harold Delaria of Des Moines, who has two gay sons, attended a rally in downtown Des Moines with Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, and about 300 other celebrants. Delaria said: "We finally have equality in Iowa.  It's kind of the last wall of legalized discrimination and it's coming tumbling down. " 11
bullet The Rev. Diane McLanahan of Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines noted that many people of faith won't agree with the ruling. She said that the court has reached a decision that "... pretty much insists that this will not be a debate about religious rights but a matter of equality and fairness." 11
bullet "Michael" posted a comment on a Sioux City Journal article stating:

"I am very proud of Iowa and the fact that we can enable ALL people the same rights under the law. I still cannot see how this affects 'straight', 'normal' marriage. Nothing was taken from them and nothing additional was afforded to gay couples. The only real change is that now all loving couples have the same rights and responsibilities (yes, responsibilities) that before were reserved for "straight" couples. Congratulations Iowa on becoming a leader in human rights and equality."4

bullet Dana Gray posted a comment as well:

"For the first time in a long time I am not ashamed of being in Iowa. You know the funny thing is -- Christians must have very weak families if same-sex marriage could destroy them. Personally, my family is intact and doing wonderful and celebrating this wonderful moment for all our same-sex friends! YAY! As far as Iowa becoming a Mecca of marriage -- well, um the state could certainly use the boost in tourism dollars!"4

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Full opinion, Case # 07-1499: Katherine Varnum et al. & Timothy Brien, at: This is a PDF file.
  2. "Iowa Court Says Gay Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional," New York Times, 2009-APR-03, at:
  3. Kevin Canessa Jr., "Lesbian & Gay Marriage Legal in Iowa--47 More to Go," DiversityInc, 2009-APR-03, at:
  4. Rod Boshart, "Court allows gay marriage in Iowa," Sioux City Journal, 2009-APR-04, at:
  5. "National Gay and Lesbian Task Force hails historic Iowa Supreme Court ruling granting the freedom to marry to same-sex couples," National Gay and Lesbian Task Force mailing, 2009-APR-04
  6. "Iowa Supreme Court Ruling On Marriage Upholds Religious Liberty, Says Americans United," AU Press Release, 2009-APR-03.
  7. "Iowa Supreme Court: Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional," Fox News, 2009-APR-03, at:
  8. In the Family Research Council press release, the Council enclosed the word marriage in "quotation marks." This is common among religious and social conservatives who refuse to recognize SSM as a valid form of marriage. We deleted the quotation marks because we felt they are disrespectful to loving committed same-sex couples.
  9. Derek C. Araujo, "Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban; Junk Science Opposed by CFI Proves Uncompelling," Center for Inquiry online news, 2009-APR-03.
  10. "UUA President Celebrates Iowa Marriage Ruling," Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, 2009-APR-03, at:
  11. Amy Lorentzen, "Iowa Court Ruling Legalizes Gay Marriage," Associated Press, 2009-APR-05, at:
  12. "Iowa High Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban," National Public Radio, 2009-APR-03, at:

Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Iowa > here

Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-APR-03
Latest update: 2009-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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