Iowa's Marriage law
On April 3, 2009, Iowa became the first Midwestern state to allow same-sex marriage. After four years of court battles, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, a law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional and all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are entitled to marry.
The Iowa case began in 2005 when the Polk County Recorder, Timothy O’Brien, refused to issue marriage licenses to six same-sex couples. O’Brien was following the law as it stood in 2005. Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to gaining equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, sued O’Brien and Polk County claiming the six couples’ constitutional rights to equal treatment and protection under the law had been violated.
Filed in Polk County District Court, Varnum vs. O’Brien, was named for plaintiff Katherine Varnum who was seeking to license to marry her longtime partner, Patricia Hyde. On August 30, 2007, Judge Robert Hanson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Hanson found that the 1998 law prohibiting same sex marriage violated the couples’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. However, Hanson understood his decision would be appealed, and the following day he ordered a stay on issuing any new marriage licenses to same sex couples while the Iowa Supreme Court heard the case.
The Supreme Court’s decision, written by Justice Mark Cady, addressed the defendants’ arguments that the children of same-sex couples faced potential harm. Cady cited the American Psychological Association’s opinion that sexual orientation has no effect on an individual’s ability to parent a child. However, much of the decision focuses on Iowa’s Constitution and its guarantee to protect the civil rights of all individuals, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
Opponents to same-sex marriage have refused to accept Iowa’s Supreme Court decision. The Family Leader, an alliance of religious and conservative organizations throughout the state, is collecting signatures on a petition to the state Legislature. The petition asks lawmakers to allow the public to vote in 2012 on a Marriage Amendment to the state constitution that would restore the one-man, one-woman definition of marriage.
Headed up by conservative activists Bob Vander Plaats, The Family Leader waged a successful campaign to oust three of the justices who voted in favor of same-sax marriage, from the Iowa Supreme Court. Although Iowa justices are appointed, every eight years, voters have the opportunity to decide if the judges should remain on the bench. On Nov. 2, 2010, Iowa voters removed Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker from the Iowa Supreme Court.