DES MOINES – Gay couples began making wedding plans Friday after the Iowa Supreme Court handed them a landmark victory that makes Iowa the first Midwest state to legalize same-sex marriages.
“We are just so incredibly blown away,” said Kate Varnum, a Cedar Rapids woman who officially got engaged to her partner, Trish, after learning the Supreme Court had ruled unanimously in their favor.
Critics warned the decision would make Iowa a gay-marriage magnet since the state does not have a residency requirement for couples applying for a license and waiting three days before exchanging their vows.
“Our worst fears have been realized,” said U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, who helped write the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act while he was a state senator in the Iowa Legislature.
“It turns immediately Iowa into the Mecca for same-sex marriages – a destination state,” King said while appearing on a WHO-AM radio talk show. “There will be weekend packages that are being planned right now. It will be the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage for America if the Legislature doesn’t act now.”
The legal precedent opened the possibility of county recorders issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 21 days, making Iowa the third U.S. state that will offer marriage licenses for two people of the same gender – joining Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“It’s like Christmas 100 times over. We have a lot of planning to do,” added Varnum, who carried the lead plaintiff name in Friday’s historic Varnum vs. Brien decision. She and her partner were joined by a 2004 commitment ceremony and they may tie their expected wedding close to that Oct. 2 anniversary.
Their newfound source of jubilation was the Supreme Court’s view that Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson was correct in deciding that Iowa’s 1998 law defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman was unconstitutional.
“We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective,” Justice Mark Cady wrote in the unanimous opinion.
“The Legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification,” the justices concluded in their 69-page ruling.
The case was brought by six same-sex couples who argued that Iowa’s Defense of Marriage law violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Iowa Constitution. They sued Polk County Recorder Timothy Brien in 2005 after his office denied them marriage licenses.
Hanson ruled in the couple’s favor last year but suspended his decision pending Friday’s decision – a stay order that came after two Ames men were granted an Iowa license and were married.
Backers hailed Friday’s decision as an important legal victory that would carry national implications.
“For this ruling to come out of Iowa is, I think, definitely going to pave the pathway to same-sex marriage in other states,” said Dustin Wagner, 25, of Iowa City. Having a Midwestern state like Iowa OK same-sex marriage likely would spur other states to do the same, he added.
Don Goodie, a semi-retired real estate developer from Cresco who has been married 56 years, said he was staunchly against giving legal status to gay marriage.
“I don’t think there’s any room for that gay marriage thing,” he said.
“We’re in a very vast minority and I don’t like the minority that we’re in,” Goodie added. “Why do we want to say that because others do it, we want to do it? I don’t think there’s any reason why we need to do it. It wasn’t intended to be that. It never was in our Constitution.”
Iowa’s four Catholic bishops joined the chorus of opponents calling for a constitutional amendment to protect “a permanent monogamous marriage of one man and one woman” from being redefined by the state.
“This decision rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history. It implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children,” said Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus and Bishops R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Martin Amos of Davenport, and. Richard Pates of Des Moines in a joint statement.
“This unwarranted social engineering attacks the good that marriage offers to society, especially the good of children, and weakens the critical relationship between marriage and parenting,” they added in their statement. “We will resolutely continue to protect and promote marriage as a union between a man and a woman because of its unique and historical contribution to the common good.”
Legal scholars were split on the Iowa court’s verdict as well.
“This is a tremendous victory for gay and lesbian couples and for all who care about equality,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, clinical professor and director of the Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic. “The court recognized that the state’s equality guarantee cannot tolerate having rules that single out gay couples and exclude them from marriage.”
However, Douglas Napier of the Alliance Defense Fund, an alliance of Christian attorneys and organizations, saw the case differently.
“The Iowa marriage law was simple, settled and overwhelmingly supported by Iowans. There was simply no legitimate reason for the court to redefine marriage,” said Napier, an Iowa attorney and ADF senior legal counsel. “The court stepped outside its proper role of interpreting the law and has instead overruled the will of the people and created new law.”
Carolyn Jenison, executive director of One Iowa, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, called the ruling a historic victory for fairness and equality.
"Today's victory assures that all Iowans have access to marriage and the security, dignity, and protections it provides. We extend our best wishes to the couples who choose to recognize their commitment to each other through marriage," she said.
Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, an openly gay state legislator, called Friday a “red-letter day” because the state’s highest court has upheld equal protection in Iowa.
“Thousands of Iowans who have worked hard, raised families, and paid taxes will now be afforded the opportunity to marry,” he said.“Today Iowa is sending a message to young people, both gay and straight. If you are looking for a great place to live, a place where people treat their neighbors with respect, come to Iowa to work, to invest and to raise a family.”
Senate GOP Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton called the decision “disappointing on many levels” and said it points up the need for traditional one-man, one-woman marriage to be protected by a constitutional amendment.
To change the Iowa Constitution requires a resolution to be adopted in the exact same form by the House and the Senate of two consecutive General Assemblies before the issue would go before voters for ratification. The earliest such a resolution would clear that process would be the 2011 sesssion.
Top Democratic lawmakers said Thursday the Legislature likely will not address the same-sex marriage issue before they adjourn their 2009 regular session, possibly as early as next week.
Gov. Chet Culver issued a statement Friday, saying "The decision released this morning by Supreme Court addresses a complicated and emotional issue, one on which Iowans have strong views and opinions on both sides.
“The next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the attorney general, before reacting to what it means for Iowa,” the governor added.
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