Iowa is third state to legalize gay marriage
Court calls ban unconstitutional Vermont House also passes bill
DES MOINES - Iowa's Supreme Court legalized gay marriage yesterday in a unanimous and emphatic decision that makes Iowa the third state - and the first in the nation's heartland - to allow same-sex couples to wed.
In its decision, the high court upheld a lower court's ruling that found a state law restricting marriage to between a man and woman violated Iowa's constitution.
"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."
The ruling set off celebration among the state's gay-marriage proponents.
"Iowa is about justice, and that's what happened here today," said Laura Fefchak, who was hosting a verdict party in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale with partner of 13 years, Nancy Robinson.
Robinson added, "To tell the truth, I didn't think I'd see this day."
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.
Its opponents were 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.
"This is an issue that will define [lawmakers'] leadership. This is not a side issue."
The Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr., pastor at the Maple Street Baptist Church in Des Moines, went to the Supreme Court building to hear of the decision.
"It's a perversion and it opens the door to more perversions," Ratliff said. "What's next?"
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, Democrat of 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 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.