Skip to comments.Press release: Iowa Supreme Court Rules in Marriage Case
Posted on 04/03/2009 8:01:29 AM PDT by iowamark
Iowa Supreme Court Rules in Marriage Case
Des Moines, April 3, 2009— In a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court
today held that 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 decision strikes the language from Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil
marriage to a man and a woman. It further directs that the remaining statutory
language be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian
people full access to the institution of civil marriage.
Today’s ruling resolves an action brought by six same-sex couples who were
refused marriage licenses by the Polk County Recorder. Except for the statutory
restriction that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the
twelve plaintiffs met the legal requirements to marry in Iowa.
On August 30, 2007, the Polk County District Court issued a ruling determining
the statute was unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection
clauses of the Iowa Constitution. The district court initially ordered the county
recorder to begin processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but stayed
the order during the pendency of an appeal by the County.
Upon appeal to the supreme court, the parties and numerous amici curiae filed
extensive briefs. The supreme court heard oral argument on December 9, 2008,
and today issued its decision affirming the district court ruling. The court’s
decision becomes effective upon issuance of procedendo, which normally occurs
twenty-one days after the opinion is filed, unless a petition for rehearing is filed.
The entire opinion is available online at www.iowacourts.gov/supreme_court
The Iowa Supreme Court has the responsibility to determine if a law enacted by
the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch violates the Iowa
Constitution. The court reaffirmed that a statute inconsistent with the Iowa
Constitution must be declared void, even though it may be supported by strong
and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion.
In addressing the case before it, the court found one constitutional principle was
at the heart of the case—the doctrine of equal protection. Equal protection under
the Iowa Constitution “is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated
should be treated alike.” Since territorial times, Iowa has given meaning to this
constitutional provision, striking blows to slavery and segregation, and
recognizing women’s rights. The court found the issue of same-sex marriage
comes to it with the same importance as the landmark cases of the past.
Equal Protection Principles. Under Iowa’s tripartite system of government,
courts give respect to the legislative process and presume its enactments are
constitutional. The deference afforded to legislative policy-making is manifested
in the level of scrutiny applied to review legislative action. In most equal
protection cases, the court applies a very deferential standard known as the
“rational basis test.” Under this test, “[t]he plaintiff has the heavy burden of
showing the statute unconstitutional and must negate every reasonable basis
upon which the classification may be sustained.” Classifications based on race,
alienage, or national origin and those affecting fundamental rights are, however,
evaluated under a “strict scrutiny” standard. Classifications subject to strict
scrutiny are presumptively invalid and must be narrowly tailored to serve a
compelling governmental interest. The court also recognized that an
intermediate tier has been applied to statutes classifying persons on the basis of
gender or illegitimacy. Under this level of scrutiny, a party seeking to uphold the
statute must demonstrate the challenged classification is substantially related to
the achievement of an important governmental objective.
Similarly Situated People. Prior to proceeding to an application of the equal
protection analysis, the court addressed the County’s request that it apply a
threshold test. Under this threshold test, if the plaintiffs cannot show as a
preliminary matter that they are similarly situated, courts do not further consider
whether their different treatment under a statute is permitted under the equal
protection clause. The County asserts that plaintiffs are not similarly situated to
civilly married heterosexuals because they cannot procreate naturally.
The court rejected the County’s analysis, finding the threshold analysis
advocated by the County results in the avoidance of a full equal protection
analysis. Equal protection demands that laws treat alike all people who are
“similarly situated with respect to the legitimate purposes of the law.” “ ‘[S]imilarly
situated’ cannot mean simply ‘similar in the possession of the classifying trait.’
All members of any class are similarly situated in this respect, and consequently,
any classification whatsoever would be reasonable by this test.” Likewise,
“similarly situated” cannot be interpreted to require plaintiffs be identical in every
way to people treated more favorably by the law. “No two people or groups of
people are the same in every way, and nearly every equal protection claim could
be run aground [under] a threshold analysis” that requires the two groups “be a
mirror image of one another.” Rather, equal protection demands that the law
itself must be equal. It requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated
with respect to the purposes of the law alike. Thus, the purposes of the law must
be referenced for a meaningful evaluation.
The purpose of Iowa’s marriage law is to provide an institutional basis for
defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of persons in
committed relationships. It also serves to recognize the status of the parties’
committed relationship. In this case, the court concluded, plaintiffs are similarly
situated compared to heterosexual persons; they are in committed relationships
and official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining
their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities.
Classification Undertaken in Iowa Code Section 595.2. Having determined
that the plaintiffs were similarly situated for purposes of equal protection analysis,
the court next addressed the classification undertaken in Iowa’s marriage statute.
The plaintiffs contended the statute classifies and discriminates on the bases of
gender and sexual orientation while the County argued the same-sex marriage
ban does not discriminate on either basis. The court concluded that “[t]he benefit
denied by the marriage statute—the status of civil marriage for same-sex
couples—is so ‘closely correlated with being homosexual’ as to make it apparent
the law is targeted at gay and lesbian people as a class.” Therefore, the court
proceeded to analyze the statute’s constitutionality based on sexual-orientation
Appropriate Level of Judicial Scrutiny. The next issue addressed by the court
was whether sexual orientation is a suspect class entitled to a heightened level of
scrutiny beyond rational basis. Four factors utilized in determining whether
certain legislative classifications warrant a more demanding constitutional
analysis were considered: (1) the history of invidious discrimination against the
class burdened by the legislation; (2) whether the characteristics that distinguish
the class indicate a typical class member’s ability to contribute to society; (3)
whether the distinguishing characteristic is “immutable,” or beyond the class
members’ control; and (4) the political power of the subject class.
In its analysis, the court found each factor supported a finding that classification
by sexual orientation warranted a heightened scrutiny. The court, citing historical
as well as present-day examples, concluded that gay and lesbian people as a
group have long been the victim of purposeful and invidious discrimination
because of their sexual orientation. There was no evidence that the
characteristic that defines the members of this group—sexual orientation—bears
any logical relationship to their ability to perform productively in society, either in
familial relations or otherwise. Addressing the issue of immutability, the court
found sexual orientation to be central to personal identity and that its alteration, if
at all, could only be accomplished at the expense of significant damage to the
individual’s sense of self. This, the court concluded, would be wholly
unacceptable for the government to require anyone to do. Finally, the court
found that, despite their securing of significant legal protections against
discrimination in recent years, gay and lesbian people have not become so
politically powerful as to overcome the unfair and severe prejudice that produces
discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Intermediate Scrutiny Standard: Governmental Objectives. Based upon the
above analysis, the court proceeded to examine Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban
under an intermediate scrutiny standard. “To withstand intermediate scrutiny, a
statutory classification must be substantially related to an important
governmental objective.” In determining whether exclusion of gay and lesbian
people from civil marriage is substantially related to any important governmental
objective, the court considered each of the County’s proffered objectives in
support of the marriage statute. The objectives asserted by the County were (1)
tradition, (2) promoting the optimal environment for children, (3) promoting
procreation, (4) promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships, and (5)
preservation of state resources. In considering these objectives, the court
examined whether the objective purportedly advanced by the classification is
important and, if so, whether the governmental objective can fairly be said to be
advanced by the legislative classification.
Maintaining Traditional Marriage. Initially, the court considered the County’s
argument the same-sex marriage ban promotes the “integrity of traditional
marriage” by “maintaining the historical and traditional marriage norm ([as] one
between a man and a woman).” The court noted that, when tradition is offered
as a justification for preserving a statutory scheme challenged on equal
protection grounds, the court must determine whether the reasons underlying the
tradition are sufficient to satisfy constitutional requirements. 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.
Promotion of Optimal Environment to Raise Children. The second of the
County’s proffered governmental objectives involves promoting child rearing by a
father and a mother in a marital relationship, the optimal milieu according to
some social scientists. Although the court found support for the proposition that
the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and oppositesex
parents, it acknowledged the existence of reasoned opinions that dualgender
parenting is the optimal environment for children. Nonetheless, the court
concluded the classification employed to further that goal—sexual orientation—
did not pass intermediate scrutiny because it is significantly under-inclusive and
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.
Promotion of Procreation. Next, the court addressed the County’s argument
that endorsement of traditional civil marriage will result in more procreation. The
court concluded 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.
Promoting Stability in Opposite-Sex Relationships. The County also
asserted that the statute promoted stability in opposite-sex relationships. The
court acknowledged that, while the institution of civil marriage likely encourages
stability in opposite-sex relationships, there was no evidence to support that
excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage makes opposite-sex
marriage more stable.
Conservation of Resources. Finally, the court rejected the County’s argument
that banning same-sex marriages in a constitutional fashion conserves state
resources. The argument in support of the same-sex marriage ban is based on a
simple premise: civilly married couples enjoy numerous governmental benefits,
so the state’s fiscal burden associated with civil marriage is reduced if less
people are allowed to marry. 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.
Religious Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage. Having addressed and rejected
each specific interest articulated by the County, the court addressed one final
ground believed to underlie the same-sex marriage debate—religious opposition.
Recognizing the sincere religious belief held by some that the “sanctity of
marriage” would be undermined by the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples, the
court nevertheless noted that 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.”
Constitutional Infirmity. In concluding the marriage statute is constitutionally
infirm, the court stated:
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. The legislature has
excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a
supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally
sufficient justification. There is no material fact, genuinely in
dispute, that can affect this determination.
We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of
the law. Faithfulness to that duty requires us to hold Iowa’s
marriage statute, Iowa Code section 595.2, violates the Iowa
Constitution. To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our
constitutional duty. If gay and lesbian people must submit to
different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification,
they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection
upon which the rule of law is founded. Iowa Code section 595.2
denies gay and lesbian people the equal protection of the law
promised by the Iowa Constitution.
# # #
Iowa Supreme Court
1111 East Court Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319
The full 69 page opinion is at:
So why limit that version of marriage to just two people? How about a menage a trois?
Looks like a few of the arguments in favor of the ban were pretty crappy itself, like the children argument.
While a good point, it’s a crappy legal case.
No doubt that contributed to the court’s ruling.
This is why all judges should be elected by the people. We need control, consequences, and accountability, or we need to get rid of these black-robed tyrants.
So does this mean that we no longer can limit a marriage to A man and A woman, with 'A' being singular, that would imply we can have multiple partners in marriage?
Yeah, how about marriage to animals and to siblings and children? People who want that have rights. Why should the state intervene on someones “love.”
This is a clear misinterpretation by the Courts. It is hard to believe this is coming out of Iowa. We need a movement to get the state constitution amended. Marriage is by definition a union between a man and a woman. No one is being excluded they are excluding themselves by not meeting the criteria. This court is just another example of how illogical and unreasoned our courts have become. Is a person being unfairly excluded from driving because they fail to meet the minimum requirements to obtain a license? The state has a the right to define licensing requirements for any number of things. This is court ruling is a sham and shameful. These judges should be removed.
Why bother getting married at all, when marriage is undefined?
All this time gay marriage shoulda been legal! Who'd a thunk?
Why didn't the folks who wrote the equal protection clause just specifically say it established gay marriage?
What an embarrassing oversight.
1. This is scary. Unlike Massachusetts, Iowa is an agricultural breadbasket. Watch crop yields plumett now. God takes His revenge in many ways. Just ask those people burned out of their homes (or had their crops dry up from drought) in California. Russias crop yields plummeted too, once she became an atheistic nation in 1922.
2. The Iowa governor and legislature should tell the Iowa Supreme Court, in effect, go to hell, were not doing a damn thing to make same-sex marriage legal, just like old Andy Jackson did with the SCOTUS regarding the Cherokee. The Iowa Supreme Court has no divisions, so it cannot enforce its decrees if no one goes along.
New Use for those extra cobs from the Corn State.
I doubt that it does, but does Iowa allow for popular referenda? You guys need a Prop 8 like... dare I say it... California’s.
Yes 64% (3304 votes)
No 36% (1838 votes)
The lefties must be swarming the site. The real people will vote later.
In Iowa, an amendment to the state Constitution has to be proposed by 2 successive legislatures before it goes to a referendum. This means that a referendum cannot happen until 2011 at the earliest. To make matters worse, the Dems control the state legislature and will likely block any vote on such a constitutional amendment.
“”Im off the wall, said Democratic Sen. Matt McCoy of Des Moines, who is openly gay. Im very pleased to be an Iowan.
Then, as he saw a stream of grim-faced activists from the Supreme Court passing through security at the Iowa Capitol, he said: The God squads coming in the door now.””
This is insane. What they have ruled is that the concept of marriage is a nullity.
This also increases the likelihood that the US will be a target of Muslim terrorism. The Muslims (correctly) see homosexuality as an abomination. They won’t take kindly to rulings like this.
Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act(DOMA) prevents the Federal government from recognizing homosexual marriage. However, with the Congress and President that we now have, DOMA will probably be repealed soon.
If equal protection applies to activities that may be approved by a court, then the phrase “equal protection” no longer has any meaning.
Don't forget the income tax implications for high wage earners now coming from Zero.......
Gay marriage is coming. Well, if it helps us dissolve the present corrupt union and form a smaller republic then it was a good thing.
What date should we put on the death certificate? What date did the U.S. die on?
Excellent post...right to the heart of the argument!
This is exactly the conclusion that is reached when God is removed from the equation. Tradition is simply tradition. It has no bearing. It is changeable. It is transient. If people want to rely on marriage (or anything else) as a tradition and not as a God created and God sanctioned event then this is the inevitable result.
Sometimes you have to look at the silver lining just to get through the day.
Yikes, Iowa. Can’t keep them down on the farm when they meet the wild folks in Iowa City.
This is horrible news, but I’m getting a little used to it. Ice cubes clinking.
We banned queer marriage and queer partnerships, or anything else of a similar nature.
Watch for people marrying their dogs, horses, etc.
After all, animals deserve love, too.
The only way anyone can support same-sex marriage is if one believes that marriage can be defined in any way one wants. The state of Iowa and the other states that have “legalized” same-sex marriage have just removed any logical and legal barrier to restricting marriage in any way. It will eventually be “designer” marriage.
The Good Lord will bring down His wrath on Iowa. Expect crop failures, floods, or locusts. God is not mocked.
NO ONE is being denied the right to marry. If you are a man, you can marry a woman. If you are a women, you can marry a man.
But no one is being denied the right ot marry.
—We banned queer marriage and queer partnerships, or anything else of a similar nature.—
Better hope your state Supreme Court feels the same way. This entire mess illustrates why the concept of judicial review is a curse. Why do we tolerate a doctrine which impinges so cruelly upon the will of the masses; this will being the very foundation of a representative republic.
This state is becoming more and more a bastion of liberal activism. This action was originally brought by a gay activist group in New York. A court has no right to make law! It’s time for people to realize that and stand up! It’s the constant drip drip of the dismantling of the Constitution! It must stop!
“So why limit that version of marriage to just two people? How about a menage a trois?”
Every dark cloud has a silver lining ;)
Any state that keeps electing Tom Harkin deserves no pity.
It doesn't matter what they think, we changed our constitution.
agreed is there a movement to get their state constitution changed there?
Is there any chance of appeal and if so then the homo’s cannot marry legally , am I correct?
“What date did the U.S. die on?”
November 4, 2008.
To all good Iowans, you are welcome to come south to Missouri. Make sure you have a job, or can relocate your business here. Our tax BASE will then lower our overall taxes, and those who are left in Iowa will have what they want & Missouri’s economy will burgeon. I also share this info with residents of Neb. & Ks.
Well, animals and children are not consenting adults capable of entering into a contract, so that’s a null argument.
so they say the ban is unconstitutional
are these people in this world at all.
This now says that any kind of marriage can be legal, man and his sister, mother and her daughter, man with his dag, two or ten wives to a man.
what on earth is going on and why haven’;t they got this in their constitution like many of us down here
so what you are saying is that now the homo’s can marry legally?
If so why doesn’;t all sorts of weirdo’s go there and get their kind of marriage legal, after all the court has said that to ban this kind of marriage is unconstitutional
—It doesn’t matter what they think, we changed our constitution. —
Thank God for that.
this is why the next election is more important and we have to take seats to stop this.
We have to go on the attack and we have to let the people know that the Dem party is for illegal,s homo’s handouts, high taxes
this is the problem wit the GOP they never get their message out
right now I feel that the south the midwest and AK should go it alone as this is pathetic.
we cannot have a small handful of people forcing their perverted sick lifestyles on to us and then saying they are normal anymore
Secular law is there to provide equal protection of its citizenry, and as long as the law has the ability to support "marriage as only between a man and a woman", it also has the ability to destroy that concept.
"Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" -- all the the law should be concerned with is the legal aspect of a partnership -- ie domestic partnership (for all of us).
Let "marriage" stay where it belongs -- in the hands of the clergy who have a higher concept and purpose for it -- not in the hands of politicians and judges who have no such higher concept or purpose.
Frankly, unless all our States move toward "domestic partnerships" only for straights and gays, I think that we are going to see States fall prey to recognizing gay marraige, one by one, whether we like it or not.
I'm in California and I don't think Prop 8 (defining "marriage as only between a man and a woman") is going to hold up in the courts.