Huge victory in Iowa gay marriage case

by on April 3, 2009  •  In Marriage

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled this morning that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the Iowa state constitution's equal protection clause. The court cuts off any impulse in the legislature to opt for civil unions, saying that "a new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect."

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

Iowa followed Connecticut in applying an intermediate level of scrutiny, rejecting the defense argument that rational basis was the appropriate standard.

Lambda Legal won two critically important firsts in this case: the Varnum v Brien opinion was unanimous, the first time that any marriage case has been won by more than a one-vote margin; and the victory came in Iowa, widely perceived as an all-American, proudly midwestern, emphatically non-New England state. 

For all these reasons, I think that this decision may come to be seen in retrospect as almost as important as the first, breakthrough decision in Massachusetts.  In public perception, it could all but erase the massive defeat in California in November, and it cannot help but provide energy to the New England states where legislatures are on the brink – if not this year, soon – of enacting equal marriage laws. To me at least, unlikely as it may sound, Iowa feels like a tideturner.

Advocates will now switch to the job of defending the decision. Iowa allows voters to amend the state constitution, but only after both houses of the state legislature, in two consecutive sessions, pass a proposed amendment.  According to the Des Moines Register, the earliest this issue could get on the ballot is 2012.

It will be fascinating to map the moves in public opinion over the next several years. A fall 2008 public opinion poll found that 28% of Iowans supported same-sex marriage, another 30% supported civil unions, and 32% opposed both. As always, it's all about that movable middle.

(The court also released a shorter summary of the opinion.)


One Response to Huge victory in Iowa gay marriage case

  1. Mad Professah April 3, 2009 at 10:01 PM

    CONGRATS!! You’re cited on page 42-43 of Varnum:”Put another way, when a characteristic is immutable, different treatment based on this characteristic seems ‘all the more invidious and unfair.’ Nan D. Hunter, The Sex Discimination Argument in Gay Rights Cases.”

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