Iowa and Vermont make it official

Iowa and Vermont make it official

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Last week Iowa became the third state in the country, and the first in the Midwest, where same-sex marriage is legal.

In a unanimous ruling issued April 3, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.

Same-sex couples will be able to obtain marriage licenses beginning April 27.

The ruling stemmed from a 2005 lawsuit filed by national LGBT group Lambda Legal on behalf of six same-sex couples who applied for, but were denied, marriage licenses.

Iowa adopted a law in 1998 that limited marriage to between one man and one woman.

Polk County Judge Robert Hanson ruled in August 2007 that the law was unconstitutional, but stayed his ruling later that day, pending the state’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

The court based last week’s decision on its belief that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of the equal-protection guarantees in Iowa’s constitution.

“The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification,” stated the court’s opinion, written by Justice Mark Cady. “There is no material fact, genuinely in dispute, that can affect this determination.”

The ruling strikes the “one man-one woman” language from Iowa law and “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.”

The seven justices also found that civil unions would not be an adequate compromise, as they are “equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution.”

Joe Solmonese, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the court’s decision as a step forward for the national LGBT community.

“The Iowa Supreme Court did its job by recognizing that gay and lesbian couples who form committed relationships and loving families deserve the same level of respect afforded to heterosexual couples,” he said. “The unanimous court made forcefully clear that the state constitution guarantees the same rights and protections for all Iowans. This decision strengthens Iowa families and makes a strong statement for equality all across the nation.”

The court further rejected the argument of assistant Polk County attorney Roger Kuhle, who spearheaded the state’s appeal, that gay and lesbian couples don’t deserve equal protection because they are not “similarly situated” as heterosexual couples — the quoted phrase a requirement for an equal-protection violation claim.

The justices wrote that “no two people or groups of people are the same in every way,” and that the equal-protection clause would be inconsequential if it was predicated on the idea that individuals or groups are or should be identical.

In the opinion, the justices also postured that same-sex marriage will not harm children, the institution of heterosexual marriage or religious freedoms, countering some of the common claims of marriage-equality opponents.

Lambda Legal supervising senior staff attorney Ken Upton commended the court’s rationale.

“The court’s decision is exhaustive, well-thought-out and supported by the Iowa Constitution,” Upton said. “The ruling is legally compelling and consistent with the most basic of Iowa values: fairness, strong communities and protection for families.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said the Supreme Court ruling was a necessity for the state’s same-sex couples, especially those raising children.

According to a study released in April 2008 by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, some 5,800 same-sex couples reside in Iowa, about 20 percent of whom are raising children.

“These children deserve the same recognition and respect that children of other married parents get,” Chrisler said.

The White House even weighed in on the decision, with a spokesperson for President Obama stating the president “respects the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage.”

Marriage-equality opponents, however, have already begun calling on the state legislature to overturn the court’s decision.

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, released a statement on the day of the decision, encouraging LGBT-rights opponents to respond to the court ruling with “righteous anger coupled with effective action.”

“Whenever you see homosexual activists celebrating outside a courtroom, as they were in Des Moines, Iowa, this morning, you know it’s a bad day for America,” he said. “The liberal judges in their unchecked arrogance have now imposed counterfeit same-sex marriage on the heartland.”

Iowa Senate majority leader Mike Gronstal told reporters before the opinion was released that it was “exceedingly unlikely” that the legislature could consider any proposed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in the state this session, no matter the court’s decision, as only a few weeks remain in the legislative session.

Same-sex marriage is also legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and, as of April 7, Vermont. ____________________________________

Vermont, which in 2000 became the first state in the country to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, achieved another LGBT milestone this week when it became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislative means.

On April 7, both the state’s Senate and House voted to override a veto from Gov. Jim Douglas, making Vermont the fourth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Under Vermont law, two-thirds of each chamber is required to vote for override and, while the Senate overwhelmingly achieved that majority — 23-5 — the House scraped by with just one vote — 100-49.

Same-sex couples can begin obtaining marriage licenses in the state on Sept. 1.

Supporters and opponents of marriage equality, still unsure at the time if there were enough votes in the House to override the veto, packed the Statehouse on Tuesday, capping off several weeks of intense lobbying from both sides.

The Senate initially approved the bill late last month, and the House also voted in favor of it, 96-54, last week. Before the House vote, however, Douglas announced he would veto the bill if and when it reached his desk.

The bill went back to the Senate for final approval of amendments April 6 and the governor issued his veto just minutes after the Senate sent the bill to his desk.

Douglas included a memo to the legislature with his veto that stated he recognized “this is an issue that is intensely personal, with strongly held beliefs and convictions on both sides. But I am charged by our constitution to act on this legislation and by its return, I have fulfilled that responsibility.”

The governor said Tuesday that he anticipated the legislature’s override.

“The outcome was not unexpected. I prepared myself for this outcome and predicted it.”

Three Democrats — Reps. Bob South, Jeff Young and Debbie Evans — who initially voted against the bill switched their vote during the veto override, and House Speaker Shap Smith, a strong proponent of the bill but whose position typically doesn’t permit him to vote for legislation, backed the override.

Young, a freshman Democrat, said he initially voted with his “gut” against same-sex marriage but changed his vote as a strategic move.

“This wasn’t the easiest decision, but I realized that as a freshman, I don’t have a lot of chips on the table,” he said. “I want to have an impact for my district. This is politics, and maybe this was time to step to the plate.”

Evans said she supported the override because she felt the governor’s veto “wasn’t appropriate, given the overwhelming support in the legislature.”

This week’s vote marks the first time since 1990 that the Vermont legislature has voted to override a gubernatorial veto.

“All of us together have made our voices heard. We’ve shown that truth and fairness and justice and love are more powerful than one man’s veto pen,” said Beth Robinson, board chair of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force.

Openly gay Rep. Bill Lippert, a prime sponsor of the bill, said he was impressed by the number of fellow legislators and their constituents who rallied behind the legislation and the LGBT community.

“This will have a profound effect on gay and lesbian Vermonters and our family and friends,” he said. “But this is really a triumph of people who care about our well-being.”

Also on April 7, the Washington, D.C., Council unanimously approved a bill that would enable the district to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The final vote on the measure will be issued early next month. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to sign the bill, but it must also undergo Congressional review.

Last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, making it the third state, after Massachusetts and Connecticut, to legalize same-sex marriage through judicial means. California briefly permitted same-sex marriage, until ballot initiative Proposition 8 made it illegal again last November. The California Supreme Court is currently considering whether to uphold the initiative.

Meanwhile, marriage-equality bills are currently before the legislatures of New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and Maine.

“We know in our hearts it is only a matter of time for America to turn its back on this history of discrimination against same-sex couples,” said Molly McKay, media director of Marriage Equality USA. “To witness within a week the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision followed by Vermont’s legislative stand, both in support of marriage equality, gives us hope that we may be able to live our happily-ever-after sooner than we think.”

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