Unanimous ruling: Iowa marriage no longer limited to one man, one woman

from The Des Moines Register.

Basic fairness and constitutional equal protection were the linchpins of Friday’s historic Iowa Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage and puts Iowa squarely in the center of the nation’s debate over gay rights.

The unanimous, 69-page decision maintains a church’s right to decide who can be married under its roof, but it runs counter to the expressed opinion of a majority of Iowans who believe marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman.

The landmark ruling is guaranteed to send shock waves through politics in Iowa and beyond. With no appeal as an option, opponents say their only hope to overturn Friday’s decision is an almost-certain bid to amend the state constitution. But that path, which would eventually require a public vote, would not yield results until 2012 at the earliest.

Enactment of an amendment requires approval by consecutive General Assemblies of the Legislature — a General Assembly lasts two years — and a vote of the people.

In the meantime, Iowa remains one of three states in the nation, and the only state in the Midwest, where gays and lesbians can legally marry. The ruling takes effect April 24. Iowa has no residency requirement for marriage licenses, which virtually assures a rush of applications from out-of-state visitors. The ruling opens the marital door to an estimated 5,800 gay couples in Iowa.

The Rev. Mark Stringer said he cried when he learned of Friday’s decision. Stringer performed the only legal same-sex marriage in Iowa when he officiated a 2007 ceremony in the brief window between a Polk County judge’s ruling and the subsequent court-ordered delay so the Supreme Court could weigh in.

“It’s really an astounding moment under our history,” Stringer said. “What really excites me is that Iowa is the first in our area of the country. We are being a leader in civil rights, which will be part of our state’s history.”

Friday’s decision stemmed from a 2005 lawsuit filed by six gay and lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses by the Polk County recorder’s office. The seven justices affirmed Polk County Judge Robert Hanson’s ruling that Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriages treated gay and lesbian couples unequally under the law.

Read the full article from The Des Moines Register.