Iowa’s Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a law, on the books for 11 years, that denied the right of same-sex couples to marry. As lawyer Michael Fox explains, the judicial opinion dismantles the discrimatory rationalizations that accompany prejudicial laws:
The Court’s decision in Varnum v. Brien (2009) is enormously significant not only because it allows same sex couples to marry in Iowa, but also because it so clearly, cogently, and conscientiously dismantles and destroys each and every one of the arguments that the anti-gay forces have made – and continue to make — against sex same marriage.”
The case was brought by six couples who “seek to declare the marriage statute unconstitutional so they can obtain the array of benefits of marriage enjoyed by heterosexual couples, protect themselves and their children, and demonstrate to one another and to society their mutual commitment.”
The Court first asserted and defended its right and obligation to rule on the constitutionality of the anti-gay marriage statute. Among the “basic principles essential to our form of government,” the Court explained, is that the state constitution “defines certain individual rights upon which the government may not infringe” including the right to equal protection of the law.
Certain fundamental rights, including the right to the equal protection of the law, are beyond “the vicissitudes of political controversy” and “beyond the reach of majorities and officials” to limit or deny. Accordingly, the Court has the responsibility “to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”
Turning to the equal protection question, the Court first noted that “equal protection can only be defined by the standards of each generation… So, today, this court again faces an important issue that hinges on our definition of equal protection…. How can a state premised on the constitutional principle equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?”…
The Court first emphatically rejected the claims that permitting same sex couples would undermine the institution of marriage or would harm the state’s children….
The Court next unequivocally held that “scientific research has repudiated the commonly assumed notion that children need opposite-sex parents or biological parents to grow into well-adjusted adults.” …
The Court next rejected the claim that prohibiting same sex couples from marrying would advance the legitimate governmental objective of promoting procreation…
The Court also rejected the claims that prohibiting same sex marriage promoted stability in opposite-sex relationships…. and that prohibiting same sex marriage would conserve state resources….
Based on these findings, the Court concluded that none of the purported objectives of the ban on same sex marriage “were furthered in a substantial way by the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage.”
Strikingly, and courageously, the Court then addressed the real basis for the same sex marriage ban – religious opposition to homosexuality: “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… Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief. Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage… 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… civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.”
So there you have it.
UPDATE: The illustration is by Mirko Ilic.