CEDAR RAPIDS — Same-sex marriage couples in Iowa on Monday were celebrating a “non-ruling” by the U.S. Supreme Court that means their vows soon should be recognized in several more states.
“I was blown away,” said Kate Varnum of Cedar Rapids who, along with her wife, Trish, were lead plaintiffs in a landmark 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.
“It means so much to thousands of families like ours that we can be married in not just Iowa but more states now.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide whether states can ban same-sex marriage — a surprising move that will allow gay men and women to get married in five additional states, with more likely to follow quickly, Reuters reported.
On the first day of its new term, the high court without comment rejected appeals in cases involving five states — Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana — that had prohibited same-sex marriage, leaving intact lower-court rulings that struck down those bans.
As a result, the number of states permitting same-sex marriage would jump from 19 to 24, likely soon to be followed by six more states that are bound by the regional federal appeals court rulings that had struck down bans.
That would leave another 20 states that prohibit same-sex marriage.
But the move by the nine justices to sidestep the contentious issue means there will be no imminent national ruling on the matter, with litigation likely to continue in states with bans.
The 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case, Varnum v. Brien, called it unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriage, making Iowa just one of three states to recognize same-sex marriage.
“It’s good progress,” Varnum said. “When you look at where we were five years ago when Iowa made its decision to now that 30 states plus Washington, D.C., that’s a lot of progress in a short amount of time.”
Iowa’s law was not at risk even if the U.S. Supreme Court had taken on the cases on Monday. But Varnum and others said having more states recognize same-sex marriage is important while traveling or when considering relocation.
“It’s the biggest non-cash case that could ever happen,” said Janelle Rettig, an elected official from Iowa City whose marriage to her wife, Robin Butler, was recognized after the 2009 Iowa ruling. “You may not spend the rest of your lives in one state, and we all travel. Any time we leave Iowa’s borders. we carry a travel packet with our marriage license and power of attorney.”
The non-action by the Supreme Court is the latest in a wave of legal rulings and public opinion polls that favor same-sex marriage.
A 2014 Gallup Poll showed a new high of 55 percent support for same-sex marriage.
In June 2013, the justices ruled 5-4 to strike down a key part of a federal law called the Defense of Marriage Act that had restricted the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples for the purpose of federal government benefits.
That decision led to a series of lower court rulings favoring same-sex marriage.
But in a separate case decided on the same day, the justices also sidestepped the broader question of whether state bans violated the Constitution but allowed same-sex marriage in California.
Some advocates believe the United States has reached a tipping point on the issue of same-sex marriage, while others are still determined to fight against it.
Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of the Family Leader, decried the “non-accountable judges punting on their duty.”
“Today’s in action and the overreaction of a lot of other courts is basically stripping the power of the people,” Vander Plaats said.
Vander Plaats still has his sights on reversing Iowa’s course on same-sex marriage. He said his organization is fighting for Republicans to pick up at least two seats to take majority control in the Iowa Senate, to go along with a Republican-controlled House and governor’s office.
If that happens, Vander Plaats said, Iowa could “right the ship quickly” by establishing a law stating Iowa Supreme Court doesn’t create laws, and then putting same-sex marriage to voters.
“People are waking up that this is the wrong path to pursue,” Vander Plaats said. “Right now, the only gains are through the leftist courts.”
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