Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the heartland Friday with a unanimous and strongly worded ruling that the state's gay marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples.
Iowa Supreme Court is upholding a 2007 Polk County District Court judge's ruling that the law violates the Iowa Constitution. It strikes the language from Iowa code limiting marriage to between a man and a woman, making Iowa the third state in the nation where same-sex marriage will be legal.
"We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbianpeople from the institution of civil marriage does notsubstantially further any important governmental objective," theSupreme Court wrote in its decision. "The Legislature has excludeda historically disfavored class of persons from a supremelyimportant civil institution without a constitutionally sufficientjustification."
The court maintained that to decide otherwise "would be anabdication of our constitutional duty."
Court rules dictate it will take about 21 days for the ruling tobe considered final and a request for a rehearing could be filedwithin that period. That means it will be at least several weeksbefore gay and lesbian couples can seek marriage licenses.
Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said shortly after the rulingthat the county attorney's office will not ask for a rehearing,meaning the court's decision should take effect after thatthree-week period.
"Our Supreme Court has decided it, and they make the decisionas to what the law is and we follow Supreme Court decisions,"Sarcone said. "This is not a personal thing. We have an obligationto the law to defend the (county) recorder, and that's what wedo."
Sarcone said gay marriage opponents have no other legal optionsin appealing the case to the state or federal level because theywere not parties to the lawsuit and there is no federal issueraised in the case. They can try and persuade Iowa lawmakers toonce again address the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, saidit's "exceedingly unlikely" that gay marriage legislation will bebrought up this session, expected to end within weeks.
Gronstal also said he's "not inclined to call up aconstitutional amendment," during next year's session.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said Polk County wasn't able togive a justification for excluding gays and lesbians from civilmarriage. The court noted that any new distinction based on sexualorientation "would be equally suspect and difficult to square"with the state's constitution.
The case has been working its way through Iowa's court systemsince 2005 when Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rightsorganization, filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay and lesbian Iowacouples who were denied marriage licenses. Some of their childrenare also listed as plaintiffs.
The suit named then-Polk County recorder and registrar TimothyBrien.
Des Moines attorney Dennis Johnson, who argued on behalf of thegay and lesbian couples, said "this is a great day for civilrights in Iowa."
"We have all of you courageous plaintiffs to thank: Go getmarried, live happily ever after, live the American dream," hesaid.
After awaiting the decision at a verdict party in the Des Moinessuburb of Urbandale, Laura Fefchak and her partner of 13 yearsNancy Robinson were ecstatic.
"Iowa is about justice, and that's what happened here today,"Fefchak said.
Robinson added: "To tell the truth, I didn't think I'd see thisday."
Bryan English, spokesman for the Iowa Family Policy Center, aconservative group that opposes same-sex marriage, said many Iowansare disappointed with the ruling and don't want the courts todecide the issue.
"I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot ofways, and yet the first thing we did after internalizing thedecision was to walk across the street and begin the process oflobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote," Englishsaid. "This is an issue that will define (lawmakers') leadership.This is not a side issue."
The Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr., pastor at the Maple Street BaptistChurch in Des Moines, went to the Supreme Court building to hear ofthe decision.
"It's a perversion and it opens the door to more perversions,"Ratliff said. "What's next?"
Some Iowa politicians began weighing in on the ruling.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, said the decision addresses acomplicated and emotional issue.
"The next responsible step is to thoroughly review thisdecision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the attorneygeneral, before reacting to what it means for Iowa," Culver saidin a statement
U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, a Democrat whose district includesPolk County, said he respects the Iowa Supreme Court's decision.
"I remain consistent in my belief that this is a decision bestsuited for the states," Boswell said. "I respect the decision ofthe court."
In its unanimous ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld an August2007 decision by Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson whofound that a state law allowing marriage only between a man and awoman violates the constitutional rights of equal protection.
The Polk County attorney's office, arguing on behalf of Brien,claimed that Hanson's ruling violates the separation of powers andsaid the issue should be left to the Legislature.
Around the nation, only Massachusetts and Connecticut permitsame-sex marriage. California, which briefly allowed gay marriagebefore a voter initiative in November repealed it, allows domesticpartnerships.
New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont also offer civil unions,which provide many of the same rights that come with marriage. NewYork recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, andlegislators there and in New Jersey are weighing whether to offermarriage. A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Vermonthas cleared the Legislature but may be vetoed by the governor.
The ruling in Iowa's same-sex marriage case came more quicklythan many observers had anticipated, with some speculating afteroral arguments that it could take a year or more for a decision.
Associated Press writers Nigel Duara in Urbandale and MarcoSantana, Melanie S. Welte, Michael Crumb and Mike Glover in DesMoines contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Iowa Supreme Court: http://www.judicial.state.ia.us/
Lambda Legal: http://www.lambdalegal.org/Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times