In a perhaps surprising - but totally correct - ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that limiting civil marriage to one man and one woman to the exclusion of same sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.
While the fundamentalists and professional Christian set have been foaming at the mouth and convulsing on the floor and shrieking that civilization is coming to an end, the Court addressed and rejected each of the arguments put forth by the opponents of gay marriage. A full copy of the Court's 69 page opinion can be viewed here.
Of equal importance is the fact that the Court also looked at the real reason for opposition to gay marriage: religious belief.
The Court's opinion states as follows:
While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling. . . . Consequently, we address the religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate as a means to fully explain our rationale for rejecting the dual-gender requirement of the marriage statute.
State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. . . . This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state. As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all.
In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage--religious or otherwise--by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. . . . The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.
I have long believed that anti-gay laws should be challenged not only under an equal protection argument but also as a violation of the separation of church and state - even more so now as more religious denominations are coming to recognize committed same sex relationships. One set of religious beliefs (i.e., those condemning gays) should never be enshrined in the civil laws thereby trampling upon the beliefs of gay accepting denominations. I am glad that the Court took on the religious basis that is truly behind laws that discriminate against gays head on and flatly stated what I wish more judges and legislators had the courage and honesty to do: tell the Christianists that their religious views have no place in determining the civil laws.
What is also of great interest is the fact that the ruling was in fact in keeping with Iowa's history of being ahead of the curve in advancing the civil rights of citizens. Something that is in stark contrast to Virginia which after its explosion of brilliance under the founding fathers has been behind the curve on almost all issues involving civil rights be it segregation, interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia), and now gay rights (the Marshall-Newman Amendment). A joint statement from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy underscores just how impressive Iowa's track record has been over the years.
Here are highlights from that statement (in reformated form):
Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights. The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight. When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency. Today, the Iowa Supreme Court has reaffirmed those Iowa values by ruling that gay and lesbian Iowans have all the same rights and responsibilities of citizenship as any other Iowan. Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights.
Slavery: In 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court rejected slavery in a decision that found that a slave named Ralph became free when he stepped on Iowa soil, 26 years before the end of the Civil War decided the issue.
School Segregation: In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated 'separate but equal' schools had no place in Iowa, 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.
Segregation of Public Accommodations: In 1873, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations, 91 years before the U.S. Supreme Court reached the same decision.
Women Attorneys: In 1869, Iowa became the first state in the union to admit women to the practice of law.
In the case of recognizing loving relationships between two adults, the Iowa Supreme Court is once again taking a leadership position on civil rights. Today, we congratulate the thousands of Iowans who now can express their love for each other and have it recognized by our laws.