I will admit that I am both surprised and astonished.
REGISTER STAFF REPORTS
The Iowa Supreme Court this morning unanimously upheld gays' right to marry. "The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution," the justices said in a summary of their decision. The court rules that gay marriage would be legal in three weeks, starting April 24. The court affirmed a Polk County District Court decision that would allow six gay couples to marry. The ruling is viewed as a victory for the gay rights movement in Iowa and elsewhere, and a setback for social conservatives who wanted to protect traditional families. The decision makes Iowa the first Midwestern state, and the fourth nationwide, to allow same-sex marriages. Lawyers for Lambda Legal, a gay rights group that financed the court battle and represented the couples, had hoped to use a court victory to demonstrate acceptance of same-sex marriage in heartland America.
The Iowa Supreme Court's Web site was deluged with more than 350,000 visitors this morning, in anticipation of the ruling, a Judicial Branch spokesman said this morning. Steve Davis, a court spokesman, said administrators added extra computer servers to handle the expected increase in Web traffic. But "this is unprecedented," Davis said.
Richard Socarides, a former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton on gay civil rights, said today's decision could set the stage for other states. Socarides was was a senior political assistant for Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin in the early 1990s. "I think it's significant because Iowa is considered a Midwest sate in the mainstream of American thought," Socarides said. "Unlike states on the coasts, there's nothing more American than Iowa. As they say during the presidential caucuses, 'As Iowa goes, so goes the nation.'"
Democratic Sen. Bill Dotzler of Waterloo said he hopes people treat each other with respect today. "Everyone just needs to remain calm," he said. "We need to analyze the decision. By giving a unanimous decision it seems to me the court really thinks it's an issue of rights. It will be up to the legislature to look at their ruling and see how we're going to proceed." [...]
Opponents have long argued that allowing gay marriage would erode the institution. Some Iowa lawmakers, mostly Republicans, attempted last year to launch a constitutional amendment to specifically prohibit same-sex marriage. Such a change would require approval in consecutive legislative sessions and a public vote, which means a ban would could not be put in place until at least 2012 unless lawmakers take up the issue in the next few weeks...
I'm surprised because I genuinely expected the decision to fall the other way -- though from what I'm seeing online, people who actually, you know, live in Iowa, seem to have expected more or less exactly this result.
I'm astonished because, of the states that have had their supreme courts strike down marriage laws as discriminatory, Iowa is the first to produce a unanimous verdict. In fact, I believe that Iowa is the first not to have marriage discrimination fall by a one vote margin. Even allegedly liberal California -- which is rather clearly no such thing -- didn't have such an emphatic result.
I have to admit, one of the things that I find so amazing is how thoroughly the Iowa Supreme Court demolished all the typical canards used to support such discrimination.
- The government argued that it needed to maintain traditional marriage because it was traditional. The court said: These reasons, the court found, must be something other than the preservation of tradition by itself. “When a certain tradition is used as both the governmental objective and the classification to further that objective, the equal protection analysis is transformed into the circular question of whether the classification accomplishes the governmental objective, which objective is to maintain the classification.” Here, the County offered no governmental reason underlying the tradition of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, so the court proceeded to consider the other reasons advanced by the County for the legislative classification."
- The government argued that childrearing in a heterosexual marriage provided optimal childrearing circumstances. The court said: The statute, the court found, 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. If the marriage statute was truly focused on optimal parenting, many classifications of people would be excluded, not merely gay and lesbian people. The statute is also under-inclusive because it does not prohibit same-sex couples from raising children in Iowa. The statute is over-inclusive because not all same-sex couples choose to raise children. The court further noted that the County failed to show how the best interests of children of gay and lesbian parents, who are denied an environment supported by the benefits of marriage under the statute, are served by the ban, or how the ban benefits the interests of children of heterosexual parents. Thus, the court concluded a classification that limits civil marriage to opposite-sex couples is simply not substantially related to the objective of promoting the optimal environment to raise children.
- The government argued that endorsing heterosexual marriage will result in more procreation. (Quite seriously, I would love to have seen the justices faces when this argument was advanced. Because, you know, heterosexuals never ever ever ever reproduce outside marriage, no not once, never. And, of course, every single heterosexual marriage results in founts of children flowing through the state.) The court replied: ...the County’s argument is flawed because it fails to address the required analysis of the objective: whether exclusion of gay and lesbian individuals from the institution of civil marriage will result in more procreation. The court found no argument to support the conclusion that a goal of additional procreation would be substantially furthered by the exclusion of gays and lesbians from civil marriage.
- The government argued that the statute barring gay marriage promoted stability in opposite-sex marriage. The court found: ...there was no evidence to support that excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage makes opposite-sex marriage more stable.
- The government stated that the statute conserved state resources by denying the benefits of marriage to same sex couples. The court noted: While the ban on same-sex marriage may conserve some state resources, so would excluding any number of identifiable groups. However, under intermediate scrutiny the sexual-orientation-based classification must substantially further the conservation-of-resources objective. Here again, the court found it was over- and under-inclusive and did not substantially further the suggested governmental interest.
- The court then addressed an issue which the county/state could not permissably address: that there was deep and sincere religious opposition that felt that allowing same-sex marriage would destroy the "sanctity of marriage". The court said: ...such views are not the only religious views of marriage. Other, equally sincere groups have espoused strong religious views yielding the opposite conclusion. These contrasting opinions, the court finds, explain the absence of any religious-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage statute. “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 . . . . 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 . . . . 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 marriage.”