Friday, April 03, 2009

Iowa Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage! Update on Vermont Gay Marriage Legislation

The Associated Press here reports that the Iowas Supreme Court today released an opinion finding that state's DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional. The third state in the nation, and the first in the mid-west, Iowa's legalization of gay marriage is seen as "mainstreaming" the institution.

"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 Supreme Court wrote in its decision. "The Legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification." (snip)

Richard Socarides, an attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights to President Clinton, said the ruling carries extra significance coming from Iowa.

"It's a big win because, coming from Iowa, it represents the mainstreaming of gay marriage. And it shows that despite attempts stop gay marriage through right-wing ballot initiatives, like in California, the courts will continue to support the case for equal rights for gays," he said. (snip)

Technically, the decision will take about 21 days to be considered final and a request for a rehearing could be filed within that period.

But 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.

"Our Supreme Court has decided it, and they make the decision as to what the law is and we follow Supreme Court decisions," Sarcone said. "This is not a personal thing. We have an obligation to the law to defend the recorder, and that's what we do."

That means it will be at least several weeks before gay and lesbian couples can seek marriage licenses.

Sarcone said gay marriage opponents can't appeal the case at the state or federal level because they were not party to the lawsuit and no federal issue was raised in the case.

Opponents can try and persuade Iowa lawmakers to address the issue, but state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said it's "exceedingly unlikely" gay marriage legislation will be brought up this session, expected to end within weeks. He also said he's "not inclined to call up a constitutional amendment," during next year's session.

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 suit named then-Polk County recorder and registrar Timothy Brien.

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.

The Polk County attorney's office, arguing on behalf of Brien, claimed that Hanson's ruling violates the separation of powers and said the issue should be left to the Legislature.
Lambda Legal's website has links here for the briefs, including all the amici briefs and decisions in the case, which is known as Varnum v. Brien. There are also "backgrounders" with information on the plaintiff couples, factsheets, press releases and all the other legal filings. A very helpful website. There are lots of other materials at Lambda Legal, so it's worth exploring.

Here is a link to Saturday,
April 4, Boston Globe article from the Associated Press on the Iowa court decision, that is essentially the same as the above, EXCEPT that it includes an update on the Vermont legislation:
The Vermont House yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would legalize gay marriage. But the 94-52 vote for final passage would fall short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto promised by Governor Jim Douglas.

The state Senate is expected to concur with the House action on Monday. The governor's office says he will veto the bill quickly.

Legislative leaders say they could bring the bill up for veto-override votes in the House and Senate as early as Tuesday.

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