Marriage Equality in Iowa.

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This morning, the Iowa State Supreme Court made a unanimous decision to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

I have been reading the decision, and thought I’d share some excerpts that I found particularly uplifting.  I can’t explain how gratifying it feels to be validated in these ways.

The Background

Here’s the basic premise for the position:

A statute inconsistent with the Iowa Constitution must be declared void, even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion.

Then after all the explanation about how the decision gets made and precedence and such, we find this, which explains basically that same-sex couples are situated similarly to opposite-sex couples (emphasis in green is mine throughout these excerpts):

Therefore, with respect to the subject and purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, we find that the plaintiffs are similarly situated compared to heterosexual persons. Plaintiffs are in committed and loving relationships, many raising families, just like heterosexual couples. Moreover, official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities, just as it does for heterosexual couples. Society benefits, for example, from providing same-sex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples.

So, does marriage discriminate against people with non-heterosexual orientations?

It is true the marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex. Viewed in the complete context of marriage, including intimacy, civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual. Thus, the right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all. Under such a law, gay or lesbian individuals cannot simultaneously fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship, as influenced by their sexual orientation, and gain the civil status and attendant benefits granted by the statute. Instead, a gay or lesbian person can only gain the same rights under the statute as a heterosexual person by negating the very trait that defines gay and lesbian people as a class—their sexual orientation. In re Marriage Cases, 183 P.3d at 441. The benefit denied by the marriage statute—the status of civil marriage for same-sex couples—is so “closely correlated with being homosexual” as to make it apparent the law is targeted at gay and lesbian people as a class.

The case is tricky, because the SCOTUS normally determines the appropriate level of scrutiny under the Federal Equal Protection Clause, and sexual orientation was still up for grabs.  That’s why that determination is part of the decision.  The four factors are

  1. History of discrimination against gay and lesbian people. (Yes, there is such a history.)
  2. Sexual orientation and the ability to contribute to society. (No, there is no such impediment.)
  3. Immutability of sexual orientation.  (Yes, people can not change their sexual orientation.)
  4. Political powerlessness of lesbian and gay people. (“Gay and lesbian people are not so politically powerful as to overcome the unfair and severe prejudice that history suggests produces discrimination based on sexual orientation.”)

So, then we get to the arguments about how scrutiny addresses the arguments.

Governmental Objectives

a. In regards to “maintaining traditional marriage”:

This argument is straightforward and has superficial appeal.  A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protect purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged.

The court found that such an argument

can allow discrimination to become acceptable as tradition and helps to explain how discrimination can exist for such a long time.  If a simple showing that discrimination is traditional satisfies equal protection, previous successful equal protection challenges of invidious racial and gender classifications would have failed.

b. In regards to “promotion of optimal environment to raise children, ” the court found the ban to be both under-inclusive:

because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of parents—such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons—that are undeniably less than optimal parents.  Such under-inclusion tends to demonstrate that the sexual-orientation-based classification is ground in prejudice…

as well as over-inclusive:

because not all same-sex couples choose to raise children.  Yet, the marriage denies civil marriage to all gay and lesbian people in order to discourage the limited number of same-sex couples who desire to raise children.  In doing so, the legislature includes a consequential number of “individuals within the statute’s purview who are not afflicted with the evil the statute seeks to remedy.”

The court also points out that the statute “does not prohibit same-sex couples from raising children.”  (Duh.)  There is no observable benefit to children derived from the ban on same-sex civil marriages.

c. In regards to “promotion of procreation,” the court asked

whether exclusion of gay and lesbian individuals from the institution of civil marriage will result in more procreation?

and found that

Conceptually, the promotion of procreation as an objective of marriage is compatible with the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the definition of marriage.  Gay and lesbian persons are capable of procreation.

d. In regards to “promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships,” the court found no reasons how “excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships.”

e. In regards to “conservation of resources,” the court found that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples

are similarly situated for the purpose of conserving state resources, yet the classes are treated differently by the law.  In this way, sexual orientation is a flawed indicator of resource usage.

Basically, the state can limit marriage to lots of different groups to save money, but that doesn’t make it right or okay.

And in conclusion, “governmental objective” is not significant argument to maintain the ban.

Religious Opposition

The decision then addresses “the reason for the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the County: religious opposition to same-sex marriage.”  The court recognizes that “religious objections to same-sex marriage are supported by thousands of years of tradition and biblical interpretation,” but “such views are not the only religious views of marriage.”

This contrast of opinions in our society largely explains the absence of any religion-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban.  Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them.

Thus, they limited their judgment to a proceeding as “civil judges” making a decision about a “civil contract.”   They recognized the right for religious organizations to define religious marriage as they will.

The Conclusion

You gotta love the actual paragraph that says it all:

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.

So, civil unions?  Nope:

A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution.

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 remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner of allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.


All justices concur.

And so do I.

Click here to read the decisions.

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There are 4 Comments to "Marriage Equality in Iowa."

  • zac says:

    Thank you for adding the footnotes and summary to the ruling. I greatly appreciated it.
    Next up is California, hopefully.

  • Zebra says:

    Thank you so much for this summary, w/ salient sections, from the Iowa decision. The judges’ logic is admirable, and they applied it to more facets of the issue than I’d realized existed. It’s hard to see how these arguments & this decision won’t become precedent (slowly, one state at a time, of course).

  • Lori Santos says:

    It is about time Justice has finally found the light of day. I wish it had been found in my home state of Hawaii first, but Iowa will do just as nicely. A supremely conservative State and Family first State is Iowa. What a wonderful setting for this to occur. At least some Justices know their business and are not fooled as easily by the religious and hateful Homophobes of the extreme “right”. Only the educated and thought provoked can see beyond this fanatic smoke screen of religious hatred for what it is in stone throwing representation of hatred over creator varience and difference which the human has no absolute power over, never has, never will, and thank goodness for. Not about tolerance, all about egalitarianism. Equality has to be lived to be believed in its existence. The tolerance of hate spewed from other States can only be treated with abiding forgiveness and love the prime directives of our very own moral leanings, until Justice may be equally served in the remaining States.

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