Iowa Becomes First Midwestern State to Recognize Marriage Equality for Gay and Lesbian Couples

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brad Luna 202/216.1514 Cell: 202/812.8140
Trevor Thomas 202/216.1547 Cell: 202/250.2758

Iowa Becomes First Midwestern State to Recognize Marriage Equality for Gay and Lesbian Couples

Human Rights Campaign Hails Unanimous Iowa Supreme Court Decision as Part of Growing Trend Towards Marriage Equality Across the Country

WASHINGTON - The
Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, applauded  the Iowa state
Supreme Court's unanimous 7-0 decision today ruling that the equal
protection provision of Iowa Constitution guarantees gay and lesbian
couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples.  As a result
of the court's decision in Varnum v. Brien, Iowa becomes the
first state in the Midwest and the third in the nation to now recognize
marriages for gay and lesbian couples. 
 

"This
is a truly historic day for Iowa and a proud day for every American who
believes in the promise of equal rights and fairness for all," said
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.  "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.  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."
 

"We
congratulate and commend Lambda Legal, the numerous organizations and
individuals who briefed the Supreme Court, and, of course, the
courageous plaintiff couples and their families who looked to the
courts to vindicate their rights," said Solmonese.  "We also thank One
Iowa for their hard work across the state to ensure that gay and
lesbian couples and their families receive the recognition that they
rightfully deserve." 
 

The
ruling is similar to past Supreme Court decisions in Massachusetts,
Connecticut and California that also found state constitutional
violations where gay and lesbian couples were denied the right to
marry.  (The California decision was affected by Proposition 8, a
change to the state constitution approved by voters last November.  A
legal challenge to Proposition 8 is pending.)
 

Speaking
for the unanimous court, Justice Mark S. Cady wrote that "[w]e 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 court rejected the possibility
that civil unions-or any institution other than civil marriage-could
satisfy the guarantees of the state constitution. 

The Varnum
case began in December 2005, when Lambda Legal filed suit in Iowa
District Court on behalf of six gay and lesbian couples (later amended
to include three of their children).  In August 2007, the Iowa District
Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny gay and lesbian
couples the right to marry.  The District Court granted a stay of the
decision pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.  

A growing number of states across the
country are providing relationship recognition to gay and lesbian
couples.  Two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, already permit gay
and lesbian couples to marry under state law.  New York recognizes
marriages by gay and lesbian couples legally entered into outside of
the state.  In recent weeks state legislatures in New Hampshire and
Vermont have passed bills that would recognize marriages by gay and
lesbian couples, which could make them the first states to enact
marriage equality legislatively. (The Vermont House of Representatives
voted yesterday in support of marriage equality after the state Senate
approved the bill last month.)

In addition to the three states that
now provide for  marriage equality under state law, eight states plus
Washington, D.C. have laws providing at least some form of state-level
relationship recognition, short of marriage, for gay and lesbian
couples. Five of these states-California, New Hampshire, New Jersey,
Oregon, and Vermont-plus Washington, D.C. provide gay and lesbian
couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of
marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Key results from the ruling:

  • Gay
    and lesbian couples in Iowa will soon be able to obtain civil marriage
    licenses and receive the same respect and protections afforded to all
    married couples under state law.  The decision becomes effective in as
    soon as 21 days unless the state files a petition for rehearing.
  • Churches
    and other religious institutions will not have to recognize or perform
    ceremonies for these civil marriages, as the court's opinion expressly
    states: "A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union
    between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a
    minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a
    leader of the person's religious faith does not lose its meaning as a
    sacrament or other religious institution.  The sanctity of all
    religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning
    as those celebrated in the past.  The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law."
  • The
    court's decision does not entitle gay and lesbian couples in Iowa to
    receive the federal rights and benefits extended to married couples. 
    The so-called federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) discriminates
    against gay and lesbian married couples by denying them over 1,000
    federal rights, benefits, and responsibilities including social
    security benefits, the ability to file a joint federal tax return, and
    the right to petition for a spouse to immigrate.  A lawsuit filed in
    federal court in Massachusetts last month challenges a portion of DOMA.
  • Other states may
    legally recognize the civil marriages of gay and lesbian couples
    performed in Iowa in the same way they recognize out-of-state marriages
    by heterosexual couples.

The Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Campaign Foundation signed onto an amicus, or "friend of the court," brief in the Varnum
case to support and further explain the argument for extending civil
marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples under the state
constitution.  A number of civil rights organizations, elected
officials, religious groups, historians, law professors, child
advocates and others also either signed or filed briefs of their own in
favor of extending civil marriage laws to gay and lesbian couples.

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The Human Rights Campaign represents a grassroots force of over 750,000 members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, HRC envisions an America where LGBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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