April 3, 2009
This morning, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Varnum v. Brien that state laws prohibiting marriage on the basis of the partners' gender are unconstitutional.
How decisive was the ruling?Unanimous (7-0). There were no concurrences or dissents.
When does the ruling take effect?On April 24th, 2009.
What is the basis of the ruling?
The Iowa Constitution's equal protection clause (Article I, Section 6), which reads:
All laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.
Iowa's equal protection clause is among the strongest in the country, and it is difficult to imagine any other intellectually honest interpretation of the clause, vis-a-vís same-sex marriage, than the one handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Can the ruling be appealed?No. The Iowa Supreme Court is ultimately responsible for interpreting the Iowa State Constitution; federal courts could intervene only if the ruling contradicted the U.S. Constitution.
Can the ruling be overturned by constitutional amendment?Yes, but marriage equality advocates have a viable chance of fighting it. Under Iowa state law, a constitutional amendment must pass both chambers of the state legislature for two consecutive sessions before going to the voters as a ballot referendum.
When is the Iowa state legislature likely to take up a constitutional ban?The 2009 Iowa legislative session is scheduled to end on April 15th, and joint rules do not presently allow the introduction of new constitutional referenda after the deadline (which has already passed). Barring revision of joint rules (which is unlikely according to Iowa legislative leaders), the earliest the referendum could be introduced would be next year. It would then need to pass again in 2011 before going to the voters in November 2012. Based on this timetable, Iowa same-sex marriage will remain legal for at least 3.5 years.
Is the Iowa state legislature likely to pass a constitutional ban?At this point, nobody really knows--but it is quite possible that the legislature could either vote down or block the ban during one of the two legislative sessions. If the ban is defeated in 2010, then it would need to be reintroduced in 2011, passed again in 2012, and voted on in 2013. If the ban passes in 2010 but is defeated in 2011, then it would need to be reintroduced in 2012, passed again in 2013, and voted on in 2014.
Would voters be likely to approve of a constitutional ban?That's a really good question. A November 2008 University of Wisconsin poll found that 28 percent of Iowans support same-sex marriage, 30 percent oppose same-sex marriage but support civil unions, 32 percent oppose both civil unions and same-sex marriage, and 10 percent are undecided. But this poll was taken before same-sex couples actually began getting married, and public opinion can change dramatically in 3.5 years, particularly given that it is likely that other states will have legalized same-sex marriage by that point.
Can same-sex couples living outside of Iowa get married there?Yes. Iowa has no residency requirement.
What is the financial impact of the Iowa same-sex marriage ruling likely to be?Extremely positive. Iowa is the only non-New England state in which same-sex marriage is currently legal, so the impact on tourism revenue will almost certainly be enormous.
If Iowa bans same-sex marriage in 2012, what will happen to married couples?Nobody really knows yet. The California Supreme Court is currently assessing this question with respect to its own same-sex married couples following the passage of the Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban. While no ruling has been handed down, legal scholars have suggested that the pattern of the judges' questioning suggests that they may be open to the possibility of allowing marriages performed prior to the passage to remain in effect.
How can I help support same-sex marriage in Iowa?
Contribute resources to Iowa's LGBT rights movement, most notably the organizations One Iowa
and Equality Iowa