Iowa Court Voids Gay Marriage Ban

from The New York Times.

DES MOINES — Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in Iowa by month’s end, after a ruling on Friday by the Iowa Supreme Court that found unconstitutional a state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

The unanimous decision moved the heated battle over same-sex marriagebeyond the East and West Coasts to the nation’s middle. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut now allow same-sex marriages, while California permitted them for about six months before voters approved a ban in November.

“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 S. Cady wrote for the seven-member court, adding later, “We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage pledged to fight the outcome, but acknowledged that there appeared to be no immediate way to undo it. The only avenue would be a constitutional amendment, but under Iowa law that process would take at least two years.

Members of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group opposed to same-sex marriage, spoke with state lawmakers after the ruling in hopes of jump-starting the amendment process.

“A court decision doesn’t change what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Bryan English, a spokesman for the group.

But there was no indication that the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, would take up the matter.

Meanwhile, the ruling set off celebrations among same-sex couples, many of whom had gathered at a hotel here to await word. They wept, embraced, laughed, and wept some more.

“I think there’s been a perception that it couldn’t happen here,” David Twombley, 67, said, moments after he learned that he and his partner could marry. The couple was among six Iowa couples to start the legal fight four years ago that culminated in Friday’s decision.

“But yes, it happened, right here in Iowa,” Mr. Twombley said. “There’s something about that, about it happening in the heartland, that has got to accelerate this process for the whole country.”

Same-sex marriages could take place in counties here starting in three weeks, when the ruling becomes final, lawyers said. There is no requirement that people seeking marriage licenses prove they live in Iowa, so the doors will be open to same-sex couples from other states.

“Go get married!” Dennis W. Johnson, a lawyer from Des Moines who had helped represent the gay and lesbian couples in the case, told the gathering at the hotel. “Live happily ever after,” Mr. Johnson called out, adding, “Live the American dream.”

Opponents of the decision said they believed it would awaken enormous backlash here and throughout the Midwest once people understood what had happened.

Along the streets of this city in the hours after the ruling, people expressed mixed views of the matter, though nearly all said they were surprised — happily so, in some cases, but less so for others — at what the court had concluded.

…Camilla Taylor, a senior staff lawyer for Lambda, said the Supreme Court ruling in a way was merely “vindicating quintessential Iowa values,” namely, a commitment to families. That this battle was being waged in Iowa, Ms. Taylor said, would have a “transformative effect” not just on the Midwest, but elsewhere.

“The fact that it’s here in some way highlights the inevitability of this all,” she said.

The legal case here began in 2005, when the six same-sex couples filed suit against the county recorder here in Polk County because he would not accept their marriage license applications.

Two years later, a local judge, Robert B. Hanson, ruled in that case that a 1998 state law defining marriage as only between a man and woman was unconstitutional. The ruling, in 2007, set off a flurry of same-sex couples from all over the state, racing for the courthouse in Polk County.

The rush lasted less than a day in August 2007. Although Judge Hanson had ruled against the state law, he quickly decided to delay any additional granting of licenses, saying that the Iowa Supreme Court should have an opportunity to weigh in first.

“If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded,” the Supreme Court said in agreeing that the 1998 law was unconstitutional.

Read the full article from The New York Times.