Excerpts of Iowa Court Voids Gay Marriage Ban by Monica Dave and Liz Robbins
Iowa became the first state in the Midwest to approve same-sex marriage on Friday, after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously decided that a 1998 law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional.
The decision was the culmination of a four-year legal battle that began with a suit filed on behalf of six same-sex couples in the lower courts.
The Supreme Court said same-sex marriages could begin in Iowa in as soon as 21 days, making Iowa only the third state in the nation, along with Massachusetts and Connecticut, to legalize gay marriage.
"We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law," the Iowa justices wrote in their opinion. "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 court wrote.
Iowa has enforced its constitution in a series of landmark court decisions, including those that struck down slavery (in 1839) and segregation (cases in 1868 and 1873), and upheld women's rights by becoming the first state in the nation to allow a woman to practice law, in 1869.
Opponents of same-sex marriage criticized the ruling.
State Senator Paul McKinley [stated]: "Though the court has made their decision, I believe every Iowan should have a voice on this matter and that is why the Iowa Legislature should immediately act to pass a Constitutional Amendment that protects traditional marriage, keeps it as a sacred bond only between one man and one woman and gives every Iowan a chance to have their say through a vote of the people."
Advocates of same-sex marriage said they did not believe opponents had any immediate way to overturn the decision. A constitutional amendment would require the state legislature to approve a ban on same-sex marriage in two consecutive sessions after which voters would have a chance to weigh in.
Iowa has no residency requirement for getting a marriage license, which some suggest may mean a flurry of people from other states.
In one part of the decision that focuses on religious opposition to same-sex marriage, the justices seemed to anticipate negative reactions, saying they considered the unspoken reason for the ban on same-sex marriages to be religiously motivated. The justices said marriage was a "civil contract" and should not affect religious doctrine or views.
"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," the justices wrote.
Maura Strassberg, a professor of law at Drake University, after a quick review of the 69-page decision, said "What is really stunning is that it's unanimous."