Debate for marriage equality continues: Outcome of marriage licenses for Iowa same-sex couples still unknown

By Briana McGeough 2008

As Iowa State University senior Sean Fritz read the controversial ruling of Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson, the prospect of marriage appeared within reach. As he reached the end of the statement, the words, “same-sex couples who are otherwise qualified to marry one another may not be denied licenses to marry” confirmed his hopes.

He could legally wed his partner, Tim McQuillan; gay marriage was legal in the state of Iowa.

“Tim and I were just living our lives, and we found out Hanson had made his ruling. I read the whole document, and at the very end, I found out we could get married in Polk County,” Fritz said.

The coming hours were chaotic as Fritz worked to plan an impromptu engagement.

“I had a few hours on Friday morning to get through everything. A neighbor and I went out and bought rings. When I proposed to Tim, he was shocked.” Fritz said.

Though the engagement came as a surprise, marriage had been part of this couple’s plans for quite some time.

“Marriage was something we had talked about before. But it was something we had discussed doing next summer or the summer after that. We just couldn’t put our lives on hold to move somewhere else to say that we are married,” Fritz said.

Their less than 24-hour engagement was frantic.

In the rush, a judge granted them a waiver exempting them from the three-day waiting period for marriage license processing.

“We got all of the documents prepared and the papers signed. There was quite a bit of running around toward the end,” Fritz said.

As the couple said their vows on the front lawn of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, they believed that they were one of many same-sex Iowa couples tying the knot that day.
“We had heard that 17 couples had gotten married. Then a New York Times reporter told us that we were the only ones,” Fritz said.

Just four hours after making his ruling, Hanson placed a stay on his decision, preventing another 27 same-sex couples from receiving legal marriage status.

The legal battle originated when six same-sex couples sued the state of Iowa; they sought the same legal protections as opposite-sex couples.

Hanson’s ruling on the case declared that Iowa’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the rights of equal protection and due process.

Hanson’s ruling reads, “The plaintiffs own sex precludes them from marrying an individual of their choosing. Such a classification is sex-based … A statute which classifies individuals upon their sex or gender is ‘subject to intermediate scrutiny and will be only upheld if it substantially related to an important state interest.’”

Hanson’s ruling states that failing to recognize same-sex marriage is discrimination because excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not substantially benefit the state of Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court will reexamine the case, and a final ruling is expected in 2009.

While gay rights advocates rejoice at the recent developments, opponents describe Hanson’s decision as the work of an activist judge. The ruling raises a sense of urgency among legislators who hope to add an amendment to the Iowa Constitution banning gay marriage.

An increased enthusiasm over the amendment has surfaced since the Iowa legislature resumed session last month.

“There is an effort in the Senate to pass a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in light of Judge Hanson’s ruling,” Iowa Senator Matthew McCoy said.

Presently, there is no guarantee of a vote on such an amendment. However, most legislators have already publicized their opinions on this controversial issue.

“I am opposed to the amendment. I support gay marriage. I don’t think that you can legislate love and commitment. Same-sex couples should not be discriminated against,” McCoy said.

Overall, 21 of the 50 Iowa senators have come out in support of a Constitutional amendment.

Repeated attempts to reach democratic Senator Dennis Black and House Republican Leader Christopher Rants, two supporters of the Constitutional ban, were unsuccssful.
In order for the amendment to be added to the Iowa Constitution, a simple majority of members of the Iowa House of Representatives and the Iowa Senate must approve the bill in two consecutive sessions.

If the legislature approves the measure in 2008 and 2009, the people of Iowa will vote on the issue in the November 2010 general election.

If, at that time, the majority of voters approve the measure, the amendment will be added to the state Constitution.

For some Iowa students, a Constitutional ban would be a great disappointment.

Michelle Bamber, a senior at Cedar Falls High School, has worked to prevent a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Bamber, along with several other members of the CFHS Gay-Straight Alliance, has lobbied in hopes of defeating the legislation.

According to a list by the U.S. General Accounting Office, under current law, same-sex partners are excluded from over 1,100 governmental benefits reserved for married couples. These include insurance, custody, visitation and burial rights.

“I want the legal rights that everyone else has. I don’t want to infringe on anyone else’s rights,” Bamber said.

Although Bamber has no plans of marrying anytime soon, she believes that Iowa’s current exclusive marriage policies contribute to the problem that educators refer to as the “Brain Drain.”

“I love Iowa, but if I can’t get married here, I’ll go somewhere I can get married,” Bamber said.

Other CFHS students do not see same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue and approve of a Constitutional ban.

“I’m against marriage because I believe that the sanctity of marriage is and always should be between a man and a woman,” senior Alana Schneider said.

As events continue to unfold within the legislative and judicial branches of the Iowa government, the legal future of McQuillan and Fritz’ marriage remains a mystery.

For now, however, Fritz said, “We still have a marriage certificate.”

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