Varnum vs Brien: the abridged version of the Iowa Supreme Court Opinion upholding gay marriage

April 4, 2009 | By | 12 Replies More

What follows is an abridged version of the Iowa Supreme Court Opinion upholding gay marriage: KATHERINE VARNUM vs. TIMOTHY J. BRIEN, Polk County Recorder.  Decision date: April 3, 2009.

Who would have thought that the next state to recognize gay rights was going to be Iowa?  Right out here in the heartland, neighbor of Missouri, where I live? Many these states in the Midwest have taken pains to amend their laws to forbid gay marriage.

I am highly impressed by the Court’s ruling and opinion in the case of Varnum vs. Brien, the Iowa Supreme Court Opinion upholding gay marriage (here’s the full text of the opinion).

Ghandi Quote - image by joeand kelly at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by joeandkelly at Flickr (creative commons)

Here’s Des Moines Register’s brief description of the holding.  It is an extraordinary opinion, extremely well-written and well-reasoned.   It is extraordinary for both the legal analysis and for the emotional and social insights expressed by the court.  This Court really gets what is at stake in this case, and did hide from any of the arguments asserted by the County.

It’s amazing what happens when you carefully lay out all of the arguments for the world to see.   And I do believe that the Court covered all of the arguments expressed by those who are opposed to gay marriage, even a big argument that the anti-gay-marriage forces didn’t have the courage to raise in the courts (religious objections).   Because the Iowa Supreme Court took the time to carefully lay out all of those anti-gay-marriage arguments, we can all see how empty and paranoid those arguments look and sound in the abstract.  When we see the anti-gay-marriage arguments calmly on paper, without the angry faces and the megaphones, we see them as the specious arguments they truly are.

Today, I took the time to read the entire 70-page opinion by the Iowa Supreme Court.   It occurred to me, though, that many people (especially non-lawyers) might not want to work their way through the entire opinion.  Many people would prefer to read detailed excerpts regarding the significant points made by the Court.  Therefore, I have created this “abridged” version, preserving the significant points, but redacting the citations and technical points.  This actual words of the Court’s opinion are truly worth your while.  Don’t settle for the simplified news media stories on this decision.  This court’s opinion is professional and inspirational.   In it’s thoroughness and directness regarding a tumultuous subject, this Iowa decision reminds me of the heroic Pennsylvania decision by Judge John E.  Jones III in  Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al.,  (full decision of the Dover decision here).

In this legal decision, the Iowa Supreme Court takes the long view of history, as you can see at page 16, where the Court points out that it prohibited slavery more than 15 years before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rights of slave-owners in the Dred Scott case.  This discussion is on the mark, given that any legislation curtailing the rights of gays is based on bigotry.   The Court has a long analysis ready for those who would argue that homosexuality is a choice, starting around page 41 in the “immutability” section.  The also Court slams the concept of “civil union” as a second rate version of marriage (for example, see page 9).

What was at stake in this case was Iowa Code section 595.2(1), which ostensibly provides:

[o]nly a marriage between a male and a female is valid.

The Court considered a mountain of evidence and reviewed dozens of amicus briefs (briefs from interested individuals and organizations who are not direct parties) before rendering its opinion.   Everything that follows is a quoted excerpt from the court’s opinion, with the exception of the bracketed materials (which I’ve inserted to help frame the excerpts) and page numbers (in case you would like to cross-reference the full opinion):

The Abridged version of VARNUM vs. TIMOTHY J. BRIEN

Page 8 [Basic Facts of the Dispute]

Unlike opposite-sex couples in Iowa, same-sex couples are not permitted to marry in Iowa. The Iowa legislature amended the marriage statute in 1998 to define marriage as a union between only a man and a woman. Despite this law, the six same-sex couples in this litigation asked the Polk County recorder to issue marriage licenses to them. The recorder, following the law, refused to issue the licenses, and the six couples have been unable to be married in this state.

Page 8 [The Plaintiffs’ claims]

The individual rights claimed by plaintiffs to be adversely affected (by the action of the legislative branch in enacting the same-sex marriage ban and the action of the government officials of the executive branch in enforcing the ban) included the fundamental right to marry, as well as rights to privacy and familial association. Additionally, plaintiffs claimed the legislative and the executive actions unconstitutionally discriminated against them on
several bases, including sexual orientation.

Page 9 [Disadvantages suffered by those who are not allowed to marry]

This record included an explanation by some of the plaintiffs of the disadvantages and fears they face each day due to the inability to obtain a civil marriage in Iowa. These disadvantages and problems include the legal inability to make many life and death decisions affecting their partner, including decisions related to health care, burial arrangements, autopsy, and disposition of remains following death. Various plaintiffs told of the inability to share in their partners’ state-provided health insurance, public employee pension benefits, and many private-employer-provided benefits and protections. They also explained how several tax benefits are denied.
Adoption proceedings are also more cumbersome and expensive for unmarried partners. Other obstacles presented by the inability to enter into a civil marriage include numerous nongovernmental benefits of marriage that are so common in daily life they often go unnoticed, such as something so simple as spousal health club memberships. Yet, perhaps the ultimate
disadvantage expressed in the testimony of the plaintiffs is the inability to obtain for themselves and for their children the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage.

Page 9-10 [The County’s basic justifications for denying gays the right to marry]

The County offered five primary interests of society in support of the legislature’s exclusive definition of marriage. The first three interests are broadly related to the advancement of child rearing. Specifically, the objectives centered on promoting procreation, promoting child rearing by a mother and a father within a marriage, and promoting stability in an opposite-sex relationship to raise and nurture children. The fourth interest raised by the County addressed
the conservation of state resources, while the final reason concerned the governmental interest in promoting the concept and integrity of the traditional notion of marriage. Much of the testimony presented by the County was in the form of opinions by various individuals that same-sex marriage would harm the institution of marriage and also harm children raised in same-sex marriages.

[There was a elaborate “Battle of experts” in this case.  Many organizations weighed in too.  Organizations supporting the plaintiffs included:  American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Child Welfare League of America,]

P. 16. [The Court’s early holdings regarding Equal Protection]

In the first reported case of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa, In re Ralph, 1 Morris 1 (Iowa 1839), we refused to treat a human being as property to enforce a contract for slavery and held our laws must extend equal protection to persons of all races and conditions. 1 Morris at 9. This decision was seventeen years before the United States Supreme Court infamously decided Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 15 L. Ed. 691 (1856), which upheld the rights of a slave owner to treat a person as property.

p. 17

[W]e struck blows to the concept of segregation long before the United States Supreme Court’s
decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). Iowa was also the first state in the nation to admit a woman to the practice of law, doing so in 1869.

P. 18

The same-sex-marriage debate waged in this case is part of a strong national dialogue5 centered on a fundamental, deep-seated, traditional institution that has excluded, by state action, a particular class of Iowans. This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?

Iowa’s constitutional promise of equal protection “ ‘is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.’

[From footnote on page 19 – relationship between Iowa law and federal law]

Plaintiffs’ challenge to Iowa Code section 595.2 is based on the equal protection guarantee in the Iowa Constitution and does not implicate federal constitutional protections. Generally, we view the federal and state equal protection clauses as “identical in scope, import, and purpose.”

p. 21 [Determining the proper level of scrutiny for this legal analysis]

[In deference to the legislature, a statute will often satisfy the requirements of the equal protection clause “so long as there is a plausible policy reason for the Classification]

The constitutional guarantee of equal protection, however, demands certain types of statutory classifications must be subjected to closer scrutiny by courts.

Thus, courts apply a heightened level of scrutiny under equal protection analysis when reasons exist to suspect “prejudice against discrete and insular minorities . . . which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities.”

[Strict Scrutiny test]

Classifications subject to strict scrutiny are presumptively invalid and must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest.

p. 22

A middle tier of analysis exists between rational basis and strict scrutiny [typically involving gender or illegitimacy].

To survive intermediate scrutiny, the law must not only further an important governmental interest and be substantially related to that interest, but the justification for the classification must be genuine and must not depend on broad generalizations.

p. 23 [The Court considered all the evidence, even some evidence that was excluded by the trial court]

The district court excluded some of the offered testimony, which the County has raised [but the Supreme Court considered it anyway because this was a de novo review, with the Supreme Court looking at the all of the evidence. See also, p. 25]

p. 23

[The Court distinguishes between “adjudicative” facts v. “legislative” facts (=“constitutional facts”) to better describe those facts “which assist a court in forming a judgment on a question of constitutional law.”  Constitutional facts are not subject to the rules of evidence.  Nonetheless, courts consider the “actual truth-content” of constitutional facts.]

p. 25:  [The County’s initial argument]:  Plaintiffs are not similarly situated to heterosexuals.

p., 27

[T]o truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike.

p. 27 [The purpose of marriage laws in Iowa]

Nevertheless, we have said our marriage laws “are rooted in the necessity of providing an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of persons in organized society.” Laws v. Griep, 332 N.W.2d 339, 341 (Iowa 1983); see also Baehr v. Lewin, 852 P.2d 44, 58 (Haw. 1993) (stating civil marriage is “ ‘a partnership to which both partners bring their financial resources as well as their individual energies and efforts’ ” (quoting Gussin v. Gussin, 836 P.2d 484, 491 (Haw. 1992))). These laws also serve to recognize the status of the parties’ committed relationship. See Madison v. Colby, 348 N.W.2d 202, 206 (Iowa 1984) (stating “ ‘the marriage state is not one entered into for the purpose of labor and support alone,’ ” but also includes “ ‘the comfort and happiness of the parties to the marriage contract’ ” (quoting Price v. Price, 91 Iowa 693, 697–98, 60 N.W. 202, 203 (Iowa 1894)) (emphasis added)); Hamilton v. McNeill, 150 Iowa 470, 478, 129 N.W. 480, 482 (1911) (“The marriage to be dissolved is not a mere contract, but is a status.”).

p. 28

[W]ith respect to the subject and purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, we find that the plaintiffs are similarly situated compared to heterosexual persons. Plaintiffs are in committed and loving relationships, many raising families, just like heterosexual couples. Moreover, official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities, just as it does for heterosexual couples. Society benefits, for example, from providing same sex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples. In short, for purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, which are designed to bring a sense of order to the legal relationships of committed couples and their families in myriad ways, plaintiffs are similarly situated in every important respect, but for their sexual orientation. As indicated above, this distinction cannot defeat the application of equal protection analysis through the application of the similarly situated concept because, under this circular approach, all distinctions would evade equal protection review. Therefore, with respect to the government’s purpose of “providing an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of persons,” same–sex couples are similarly situated to opposite–sex couples.

p. 29

Plaintiffs believe Iowa Code section 595.2 classifies on the bases of gender and sexual orientation. The County argues the same-sex marriage ban does not discriminate on either basis. The district court held section 595.2 classifies according to gender. As we will explain, we believe the ban on civil marriages between two people of the same sex classifies on the basis of sexual orientation.

P. 30  [County’s argument]: Section 595.2 does not explicitly refer to “sexual orientation”

p. 31

It is true the marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex. Viewed in the complete context of marriage, including intimacy, civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person
of the same sex is to a heterosexual. Thus, the right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all. Under such a law, gay or lesbian individuals cannot simultaneously fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship, as influenced by their sexual orientation, and gain the civil status and attendant benefits granted by the statute. Instead, a gay or lesbian person can only gain the same rights under the statute as a heterosexual person by negating the very trait that defines gay and lesbian people as a class—their sexual orientation. The benefit denied by the marriage statute—the status of civil marriage for same-sex couples—is so “closely correlated with being homosexual” as to make it apparent the law is targeted at gay and lesbian people as a class.

By purposefully placing civil marriage outside the realistic reach of gay and lesbian individuals, the ban on same-sex civil marriages differentiates implicitly on the basis of sexual orientation. Thus, we proceed to analyze the constitutionality of the statute based on sexual orientation discrimination.

p. 37  [W]e consider the last two factors—immutability of the characteristic and political powerlessness of the group—to supplement the analysis as a means to discern whether a need for heightened scrutiny exists.

p. 37  [Factors for determining level of scrutiny to be applied by the Court]

History of discrimination against gay and lesbian people.

“The County does not, and could not in good faith, dispute the historical reality that gay and lesbian people as a group have long been the victim of purposeful and invidious discrimination because of their sexual orientation.”   Lots of detail this history of discrimination suggests any legislative burdens placed on lesbian and gay people as a class “are more likely than others to reflect deep-seated prejudice rather than legislative rationality in pursuit of some legitimate objective.”

p. 39

Sexual orientation and the ability to contribute to society.  “[W]hether the characteristic at issue—sexual orientation—is related to the person’s ability to contribute to society.”

[S]exual orientation is broadly recognized in Iowa to be irrelevant to a person’s ability
to contribute to society.20 Those statutes and regulations reflect at least some measure of legislative and executive awareness that discrimination based on sexual orientation is often predicated on prejudice and stereotype and further express a desire to remove sexual orientation as an obstacle to the ability of gay and lesbian people to achieve their full potential. Therefore,
we must scrutinize more closely those classifications that suggest a law may be based on prejudice and stereotype because laws of that nature are “incompatible with the constitutional understanding that each person is to be judged individually and is entitled to equal justice under the law.”

p. 41

Immutability of sexual orientation.

A human trait that defines a group is “immutable” when the trait exists “solely by the accident of birth,” or when the person with the trait has no ability to change it.  Immutability is a factor in determining the appropriate level of scrutiny because the inability of a person to change a
characteristic that is used to justify different treatment makes the discrimination violative of the rather “ ‘basic concept of our system that legal burdens should bear some relationship to individual responsibility.’ ”

p. 44

[T]he immutability “prong of the suspectness inquiry surely is satisfied when . . . the identifying trait is ‘so central to a person’s identity that it would be abhorrent for government to penalize a person for refusing to change [it].’ ”  [T]he County acknowledges sexual orientation is highly
resistant to change. Additionally, “sexual orientation ‘forms a significant part of a person’s identity.’ ”

p. 45

Political powerlessness of lesbian and gay people.

p. 47

[T]he political powerlessness factor of the level-of-scrutiny inquiry does not require a showing of absolute political powerlessness. Rather, the touchstone of the analysis should be “whether the group lacks sufficient political strength to bring a prompt end to the prejudice and discrimination through traditional political means.”

It is also important to observe that the political power of gays and lesbians, while responsible for greater acceptance and decreased discrimination, has done little to remove barriers to civil marriage.

p. 48

We are convinced gay and lesbian people are not so politically powerful as to overcome the unfair and severe prejudice that history suggests produces discrimination based on sexual orientation.

p. 49 [cited to recent gay marriage decision by the Supreme court of Connecticut]:

Gay persons have been subjected to and stigmatized by a long history of purposeful and invidious discrimination that continues to manifest itself in society. The characteristic that
defines the members of this group—attraction to persons of the same sex—bears no logical relationship to their ability to perform in society, either in familial relations or otherwise as
productive citizens. Because sexual orientation is such an essential component of personhood, even if there is some possibility that a person’s sexual preference can be altered, it would be wholly unacceptable for the state to require anyone to do so. Gay persons also represent a distinct minority of the population. It is true, of course, that gay persons recently have made significant advances in obtaining equal treatment under the law. Nonetheless, we conclude that, as a minority group that continues to suffer the enduring effects of centuries of legally sanctioned discrimination, laws singling them out for disparate treatment are subject to heightened judicial scrutiny to ensure that those laws are not the product of such historical prejudice and stereotyping.

p. 49

The factors established to guide our determination of the level of scrutiny to utilize in our examination of the equal protection claim in this case all point to an elevated level of scrutiny.

p. 49 [This case does not even survive intermediate level of scrutiny].

Plaintiffs argue sexual orientation-based statutes should be subject to the most searching scrutiny. The County asserts Iowa’s marriage statute, section 595.2, may be reviewed, at most, according to an intermediate level of scrutiny. Because we conclude Iowa’s same-sex marriage statute cannot withstand intermediate scrutiny, we need not decide whether classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to a higher level of scrutiny. Thus, we turn to a discussion of the intermediate scrutiny standard.

p. 50

“To withstand intermediate scrutiny, a statutory classification must be substantially related to an
important governmental objective.”

p. 51

Because the relevant focal point is the opportunity sought by the plaintiffs, the issue presented by this lawsuit is whether the state has “exceedingly persuasive” reasons for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples, not whether state sanctioned, heterosexual marriage is constitutional. Thus, the question we must answer is whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage is substantially related to any important governmental objective.

p. 51  [County’s arguments for upholding the Iowa marriage statute]

p. 52

[County’s argument] Maintaining traditional marriage

This argument is straightforward and has superficial appeal. A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protection purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged.

p. 52.

This “is simply another way of saying the governmental objective is to limit civil marriage to opposite-sex couples.”  “It permits a classification to be maintained “ ‘for its own sake.’ ”   Moreover, it can allow discrimination to become acceptable as tradition and helps to explain how discrimination can exist for such a long time.

p. 53  We need to analyze the “reasons underlying that tradition”   “However, some underlying reason other than the preservation of tradition must be identified.”

p. 54

[County’s argument] Promotion of optimal environment to raise children.

“The existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children. . . . were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies.”

p. 55  Even if rational relationship, it is “helpful to consider whether the legislation is over-inclusive or under-inclusive.”

p. 56

We begin with the County’s argument that the goal of the same-sex marriage ban is to ensure children will be raised only in the optimal milieu. In pursuit of this objective, the statutory exclusion of gay and lesbian people is both under-inclusive and over-inclusive. The civil marriage statute is under-inclusive because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of
parents—such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons—that are undeniably less than optimal parents. Such under-inclusion tends to demonstrate that the sexual-orientation-based classification is grounded in prejudice or
“overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences” of gay and lesbian people, rather than having a substantial relationship to some important objective.

p. 57

The ban on same-sex marriage is substantially over-inclusive because not all same-sex couples choose to raise children. Yet, the marriage statute denies civil marriage to all gay and lesbian people in order to discourage the limited number of same-sex couples who desire to raise children.

p. 57

At the same time, the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from marriage is under-inclusive, even in relation to the narrower goal of improving child rearing by limiting same-sex parenting. Quite obviously, the statute does not prohibit same-sex couples from raising children. Same-sex couples currently raise children in Iowa, even while being excluded from civil marriage, and such couples will undoubtedly continue to do so. Recognition of this under-inclusion puts in perspective just how minimally the same-sex marriage ban actually advances the purported legislative goal. A law so simultaneously over-inclusive and under-inclusive is not substantially
related to the government’s objective. In the end, a careful analysis of the over- and under-inclusiveness of the statute reveals it is less about using marriage to achieve an optimal environment for children and more about merely precluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage. If the statute was truly about the best interest of children, some benefit to children derived from the ban on same-sex civil marriages would be observable.

A classification that limits civil marriage to opposite-sex couples is simply not substantially related to the objective of promoting the optimal environment. The County does not specifically contend the goal of Iowa’s marriage statute is to deter gay and lesbian couples from having children. Such a claim would raise serious due process concerns. . .  This conclusion suggests stereotype and prejudice, or some other unarticulated reason, could be present to explain the real objectives of the statute.

p. 59

[County’s argument]  Promotion of procreation.

The County also proposes that government endorsement of traditional civil marriage will result in more procreation. It points out that procreation is important to the continuation of the human race, and opposite-sex couples accomplish this objective because procreation occurs naturally within this group. In contrast, the County points out, same-sex couples can procreate only through assisted reproductive techniques, and some same-sex couples may choose not to
procreate. While heterosexual marriage does lead to procreation, the argument by the County fails to address the real issue in our required analysis of the objective: whether exclusion of gay and lesbian individuals from the institution of civil marriage will result in more procreation? If
procreation is the true objective, then the proffered classification must work to achieve that objective.

Conceptually, the promotion of procreation as an objective of marriage is compatible with the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the definition of marriage. Gay and lesbian persons are capable of procreation. Thus, the sole conceivable avenue by which exclusion of gay and lesbian people from civil marriage could promote more procreation is if the unavailability of civil
marriage for same-sex partners caused homosexual individuals to “become” heterosexual in order to procreate within the present traditional institution of civil marriage. The briefs, the record, our research, and common sense do not suggest such an outcome.

[T]he statute is significantly under-inclusive with respect to the objective of increasing procreation because it does not include a variety of groups that do not procreate for reasons such as age, physical disability, or choice.

p. 60

[County’s argument] Promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships.

“The County offers no reasons that it does, and we can find none.”

[County’s argument]  Conservation of resources.

The argument is based on a simple premise: couples who are married enjoy numerous governmental benefits, so the state’s fiscal burden associated with civil marriage is reduced if less people are allowed to marry.

By way of example, the County hypothesizes that, due to our laws granting tax benefits to married couples, the State of Iowa would reap less tax revenue if individual taxpaying gay and lesbian people were allowed to obtain a civil marriage.

p. 61  [S]uch classifications so obviously offend our society’s collective sense of equality . . .

p. 61  [FN:  Plaintiffs identify over two hundred Iowa statutes affected by civil-marriage status.]

p. 62   The goal of conservation of state resources would be equally served by excluding any similar-sized group from civil marriage. Indeed, under the County’s logic, more state resources would be conserved by excluding groups more numerous than Iowa’s estimated 5800 same-sex couples (for example, persons marrying for a second or subsequent time).

p. 63

While the objectives asserted may be important (and many undoubtedly are important), none are
furthered in a substantial way by the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage.

p. 63  [The “unexpressed” arguments based on religion].

[W]e consider the reason for the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage left unspoken by the County: religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling.

p. 64  Religious objections to same-sex marriage are supported by thousands of years of tradition and biblical interpretation. . . Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage. As demonstrated by amicus groups, other equally sincere groups and people in Iowa and around the nation have strong religious views that yield the opposite conclusion.

Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them. See Iowa Const. art. I, § 3 (“The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .”).
The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute declares, “Marriage is a civil contract” and then regulates that civil contract. Iowa Code § 595A.1. Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class
of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with civil marriage.
We, of course, have a constitutional mandate to protect the free exercise of religion in Iowa, which includes the freedom of a religious organization to define marriages it solemnizes as unions between a man and a woman.

p. 66

As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals.

p. 66

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious
denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution. The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

p. 68

Iowa Code section 595.2 is unconstitutional because the County has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage . . . Consequently, the language in Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.

All justices concur.


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Civil Rights, Friendships/relationships, hypocrisy, ignorance, Law, Politics, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sex, snake oil

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    This must be "abridged" over a mighty wide span.

    Tell me again why government is even involved in this essentially religious, economic, and private type of social contract? After all, even registering a marriage with The State is a relatively modern custom.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      I agree. I think that the government should offer only civil union recognition, essentially a package of legal rights relating to property and children. The government shouldn't be involved in deciding the meaning or existence of "marriage." I think that this is where we're heading, though with the label of "marriage" referring to a civil union where it involves the government.

      As I mentioned, this was a 70 page opinion, so even the abridged edition is lengthy. I'd estimate that I chopped out 60% of the opinion to make this version.

    • Dan,

      Because marriage is a state function and bears on matters like inheritance, insurance, taxes, power of attorney, status before the court, and hundreds of other little niceties. Who gets granted these benefits and protections is a political matter, romance, religion, and "nature" aside.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    A recent example of bigotry against gays to illustrate the importance of the Court's decision.

  3. Ebonmuse says:

    Thanks, Erich, for doing the work to condense the court's ruling. Even in abridged form, this is obviously a superb piece of legal reasoning, and I think your synopsis gives me the motivation to seek out and read the full version.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    From a lawyer friend of mine who grew up in Iowa:

    [Varnum] was even written by Justice Cady, who is a Republican appointee and the most conservative member of the court. On social issues, the Iowa Supreme Court is quite progressive, but for whatever reason when it comes to products liability and tort law is very conservative.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    The Vermont legislature has overridden the Republican governor's veto, thereby becoming the 4th state allowing gay marriage, and the first to do so with a legislature's vote.

  6. Jan Connor says:

    It is amazing to me that the religious sect is continuing to stand on its morals regarding same sex marriage. I have often thought that if the word "marriage" were taken out of the loop, and called something else such as "coupling" perhaps people would not get so uptight. Of course, if the name were to be changed, then all the rights a person is entitled to would need to be validated. I recently read an article in the Cityview written by Michael Gartner that I believe every citizen in the state of Iowa should read. Too bad that this cannot be published in the Des Moines Register. Bravo to him. Jan Connor

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    "The unprecedented ouster of three Supreme Court justices in Iowa who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage is raising fresh concerns over the politicization of judicial elections and the influence of special interest groups on the courts."

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    A poster published by a gay rights group in Dublin, appearing on public buses:

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