Nancy Polikoff

The Iowa Marriage Case- Coming up... and you can follow it

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | December 02, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Iowa, Lambda Legal, marriage equality, same-sex marriage

There's only one marriage equality case left. I'm not counting the case before the California Supreme Court on the proper method to amend that state's constitution. I'm talking about a state constitutional challenge to a ban on same-sex marriage, litigated by one of the national LGBT rights legal groups. This case is in Iowa. It's being litigated by Lambda Legal. And the Iowa Supreme Court is making it possible for everyone to follow it, including live streaming of the oral argument.

Of course there may be more cases. Anyone who can get a lawyer to file a case can get into court. But the LGBT legal rights groups mapped out a strategy years back about state courts they thought might be receptive to marriage equality arguments based on their state's constitution.

I'll recap the results of that strategy. It worked in the highest courts of Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut. (Of course Prop 8 in California has at least temporarily halted marriages there). In Vermont and New Jersey, the litigation produced rulings that the benefits and obligations of marriage would have to be extended to same-sex couples but not the name "marriage;" thus we have civil unions in those states. In New York, Maryland, and Washington, the litigation failed. (New Hampshire, Oregon, and the District of Columbia afford broad recognition to same-sex partners who register/enter civil unions, but those statutes were not the result of litigation in state courts.) Check out this NGLTF map.

There will be cases about recognition in other states of the Massachusetts and Connecticut marriages, including whether other states will allow same-sex couples to divorce. Someday, if DOMA is not repealed in Congress, an LGBT legal organization will likely challenge it in court. So it's not that we won't see marriage-related issues in the courts. But for a straightforward challenge to the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, the Iowa case embodies the cumulative wisdom of all the wins and losses of the last decade. You won't want to miss it.


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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 2, 2008 4:08 PM

Nancy, do you happen to know if Iowa has a rule saying that a decision is to be rendered within a specific amount of time after oral argument? I think that is the situation in California and perhaps some other states.

I can't find anything on the court website that says they have a time limit for deciding appeals. If I find out something different, I'll let you know...

Indiana also had a challenge to our DOMA laws. It lost. The litigants (ACLU) didn't bother to check with any LGBT orgs or even notify local activists of their intent to file. Instead, we were blindsided and had no chance to rally support.