Supreme Court decision creates Iowa gay marriage

By Monica Reida 2009

On Friday at 8:30 a.m. in Des Moines, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a 1998 ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, upholding a decision that a Polk County judge made in 2007.

In December 2005, Lambda Legal, which represents gays, lesbians and those that are HIV-positive, filed a lawsuit, Varnum v. Brien, with the Polk County Court on behalf of six same-sex couples saying that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was a violation of the equal promise of liberty in the Iowa constitution. On August 31, 2007, Judge Robert B. Hanson of Polk County ruled in favor, allowing same-sex marriages to occur in Iowa for four hours. A stay was put on the ruling, taking the case to the Supreme Court.

The main point of the case was that same-sex couples are no different than heterosexual couples and therefore should not be excluded from the institution of marriage.

In the ruling, Justice Mark S. Cady says of the couples being represented that “Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected—a belief embraced by our state motto.”

The 69-page ruling looked at several factors in the case before coming to a conclusion.

“We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective,” Cady writes. The ruling states later, “We have a constitutional duty to insure equal protection under the law.”

After the ruling was announced, there was celebration among gays, lesbians, bisexuals and their allies throughout the state as well as the nation.

“I was so relieved,” said world language teacher Melissa Breddin, an ally for the GLBT community. “I know that this upsets a lot of people, but I hope that they can step back.”

The ruling also drew criticism due the legalizing of marriage instead of civil unions, which has legal protection for same-sex couples similar to marriage, but it doesn’t protect couples in terms of issues such as health coverage or federal laws in the manner that marriage does.

The ruling acknowledged the fact that a 2008 survey in the Des Moines Register found that only 28.1 percent of the individuals surveyed were in support of same sex-marriage.
Throughout the state, rallies were held in celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Two rallies were held in Cedar Falls in conjuncture with One Iowa and UNI Proud at 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. outside of Mauker Union on the University of Northern Iowa campus. The turnout for the later rally was of a nice size, but according to UNI Proud the turn out for the first rally was very large.

Students, faculty and community members turned out for the rally and spoke about the Supreme Court’s decision as some held signs in support. The textiles program, which was in the middle of dress rehearsals for their annual show, even came out to show their support.

“I’ve been surprised by the amount of support we’ve had,” said Kiel Helfter, Director of Creative Programming for UNI Proud.

Among those that spoke were members of same-sex couples that can now wed under the decision. Paul Danielsen and John Wilson, the former editors of Iowa’s gay newspaper, ACCESSLine, and partners for 14 years spoke at the rally.

“This is a civil right that a lot of people would like,” Wilson said to the group.

Danielsen also said that his partner proposed to him the very same morning.

The mood at the rally was that of ebullience along with some surprise to the ruling as people stood near the fountain.

“I was expecting it to be somewhere in the middle,” Helfter said. “I thought that they’d say that gays and lesbians have rights, but not really marriage. I didn’t expect it to be unanimous.”

But mostly, the individuals at the rally celebrated their rights.

“It is so exciting that after eight years I can marry my wife,” said Lytishya Borglum as she addressed the crowd while holding her and her partner’s daughter.

The ruling not only allows same-sex couples to marry, but to also file taxes jointly, have joint health care coverage, take care of death arrangements and enjoy other benefits that heterosexual couples have.

“I can finally get a family membership for the Cedar Falls Rec Center,” Borglum remarked.

In spite of the celebratory mood towards the ruling, there are several people displeased with the legalization of gay marriage.

“I think homosexuality is wrong. It’s against God’s teachings,” junior Sarah Kline said.

Several opponents of gay marriage are pushing for lawmakers to do something. United States Representative Steve King has criticized the ruling along with United States Senator Tom Harkin and state Senator Paul McKinley.

However, unless a rehearing occurs within 21 days of the ruling, a measure must be put on the ballot to overturn the ruling. According to Lambda Legal, a rehearing is unlikely due to the unanimous ruling. The earliest that a ballot measure would be voted on by the people of Iowa is 2012.

“The law can’t tell people how to live based on a religion,” Breddin said.

Ministers in the Cedar Falls area have views on this volatile issue that will probably be questioned and debated due to this ruling.

Pastor David Doely of Nazareth Lutheran Church explained how his congregation has been part of a years-long discussion in their national body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, about how to respond to those who wish to become ministers but also want to have and live in same-sex relationships.

Since the present ELCA policy requires ministers to be married or celibate, this is not possible. Some in the ELCA want to recognize and accept same-sex relationships and allow those in such relationships to become ministers. One side of the argument is for same-sex couples to have unions blessed, but not marriages.

“We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual behavior is contrary to scripture,” Doely said. “But scripture also speaks to everyone, married or single, about governing their sexual impulses and actions.”

Doely also added that while his congregation believes that gays and lesbians should have their rights respected. They are not in favor of blessing same-sex relationships and are urging the church to continue this policy and practice.

Those in support of the ruling are being encouraged to write their legislators about the issue to convince them to not overturn the ruling.

Couples can begin to be married on April 24, 21 days after the ruling in accordance with Iowa law. As of the writing of this article, there is no residence requirement for the marriages.

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