Iowa High Court Ruling Clears Path for Gay Marriages

April 2, 2009 ( - The Iowa Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage, making Iowa the third state to take that step.

An Associated Press news report said the state’s high court ruled that an Iowa law restricting marriage to unions of a man and a woman is unconstitutional.

“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,” justices wrote in the ruling. “The Legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification.”

After the decision was released, proponents were joyous, but opponents were equally dismayed.

“I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways, and yet the first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote,” said Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative group the Iowa Family Policy Center, according to the Associated Press. “This is an issue that will define (lawmakers’) leadership. This is not a side issue.”

The news service said the decision will take about 21 days to be considered final and a request for a rehearing could be filed within that period. However, Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said his office will not ask for a rehearing, meaning the court's decision should take effect after that three-week period.

The case had been working its way through Iowa's court system since 2005 when Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization, filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay and lesbian Iowa couples who were denied marriage licenses. Some of their children are also listed as plaintiffs.

The state Supreme Court's ruling upheld an August 2007 decision by Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson, who found that a state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the state's constitutional rights of equal protection.

According to the Associated Press, around the nation only Massachusetts (see  Massachusetts Court Says Gays Entitled to Marry )  and Connecticut (see CT High Court Approves Gay Marriage ) permit same-sex marriage. California, which briefly allowed gay marriage (see Golden State Court Allows Gay Marriages ) before a voter initiative in November repealed it, allows domestic partnerships (see CA Voters Overturn Court Ruling on Same-sex Marriage ).

New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont also offer civil unions, which provide many of the same rights that come with marriage. New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and legislators there and in New Jersey are weighing whether to offer marriage, the Associated Press said. A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Vermont has cleared the Legislature but may be vetoed by the governor.

The Iowa ruling is available  here .