The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

Iowa Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage Upholds Religious Liberty, Says Americans United

Decision Reiterates That Religion Does Not Drive Public Policy, Says Church-State Watchdog Group


Today's Iowa Supreme Court decision striking down a state law
banning same-sex marriage is a welcome reaffirmation of religious
liberty, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In its unanimous ruling,
the Iowa high court makes it clear that religious denominations have a
constitutional right to set their own rules about marriage but that
civil law should reflect equal protection for all citizens and not be
anchored in religious dogma.

"The court has reaffirmed religious liberty," said the Rev. Barry W.
Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The justices reminded us
that religious groups are free to marry whomever they choose, but civil
law cannot be based on any group's theology.

"The court has recognized that civil marriage is the province of
government and religious marriage is the province of the faith
community," Lynn said. "That's what our constitutional principles
mandate, and that's the way it should be. Clergy are free to perform or
decline to perform marriage ceremonies, while the government treats
everyone equally when it comes to civil marriage."

Observed the court in its Varnum v. Brien ruling, "[C]ivil
marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal
protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of
individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the
religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as
a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional
rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection
for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our
constitution immeasurably by trying to do more."

The court also made clear that its decision protects the rights of religious groups that oppose same-sex unions.

"In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans
on the issue of same-sex marriage religious or otherwise by giving
respect to our constitutional principles," the justices asserted.
"These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex
and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to
this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to
associate with the religion that best reflects their views."

Added the court, "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."

Lynn said this aspect of the ruling is important, as it debunks the
common Religious Right argument that houses of worship will be forced
to perform same-sex ceremonies.

"Religious Right scaremongers are trying to frighten clergy with
bald-faced lies," said Lynn. "The Iowa ruling makes clear just how
wrong this charge is."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.