Friday, August 31, 2007

Iowa Judge: State's Gay Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional

America's slow-but-sure evolution toward equal marital rights for same-sex couples had a significant development yesterday, as Des Moines Judge Robert Hanson struck down Iowa's prohibition against same sex marriage.

Iowa Independent provides further background as to the case:
The case was filed by civil rights group Lambda Legal on behalf of six same-sex couples and their families. Each couple was denied a marriage license from Polk County officials on the grounds that they did not meet the gender requirements according to Iowa law.
Hanson, an Iowa District Court Judge, found that the same-sex marriage ban violates the rights of due process and equal protection guaranteed in the Iowa State Constitution.
He held the prohibition has "no rational relationship to the achievement of any legitimate governmental interest," and stated:

Couples, such as plaintiffs, who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry or certificates of marriage or in any other way prevented from entering into a civil marriage ... by reason of the fact that both person comprising such a couple are of the same sex.

The full text of Judge Hanson's decision is here.

Of particular interest is his smack-down as unqualified of the numerous expert witnesses offered by the County in support of the prohibition against same-sex marriage.

The Judgment prompted a number of immediate applications for marriage licenses in Des Moines. Six licenses were immediately issued to the Plaintiffs.

The County will appeal the ruling.

The political fallout from the decision was immediate, if largely predictable. From the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he expects the Legislature will wait until the issue makes its way through the judicial process before weighing in to see if and how the state law needs to be revised.

"Today's civil-rights ruling by Judge Robert Hanson is another step in what is expected to be a lengthy legal process," Gronstal said. "The prudent approach would be for the Legislature to await an expected appeal and subsequent ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court before taking any steps in reaction to this decision."

However, House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City said the Legislature should fix the problem as soon as possible by adopting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. That should be the first order of business when the 2008 session convenes in January or earlier if lawmakers and Gov. Chet Culver deem a special session is needed to protect Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“I guarantee you, there's going to be a vote. One way or another, people are going to have to pick a side, you can't be on the fence," Rants said. "You either believe marriage is between a man and a woman or you don't and we'll find out."The House GOP leader called today's ruling "shocking" but something that could have been averted had Democrats chosen not to "play hide and seek with the issue" when Republicans were pushing for a constitutional marriage protections.

"That would be the cleanest, easiest way to fix it," Rants said. "I can't believe this has happened here in Iowa. We knew when all these folks were applying for these marriage licenses, their intent was to try to get the law overturned. The law shouldn't have been overturned. That's why we tried to put it in the Constitution."

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto
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