The court's unanimous ruling is great reading. Here are some highlights all South Dakotans—who vandalized their Constitution with a same-sex marriage ban in 2006—should read:
On the homosexual plaintiffs... also known as neighbors and fellow citizens:
This lawsuit is a civil rights action by twelve individuals who reside in six communities across Iowa. Like most Iowans, they are responsible, caring, and productive individuals. They maintain important jobs, or are retired, and are contributing, benevolent members of their communities. They include a nurse, business manager, insurance analyst, bank agent, stay-at-home parent, church organist and piano teacher, museum director, federal employee, social worker, teacher, and two retired teachers. Like many Iowans, some have children and others hope to have children. Some are foster parents. Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected—a belief embraced by our state motto ["Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain"].
Despite the commonality shared with other Iowans, the twelve plaintiffs are different from most in one way. They are sexually and romantically attracted to members of their own sex. The twelve plaintiffs comprise six same-sex couples who live in committed relationships. Each maintains a hope of getting married one day, an aspiration shared by many throughout Iowa [p. 7].
What do same-sex couples want?
They seek to declare the marriage statute unconstitutional so they can obtain the array of benefits of marriage enjoyed by heterosexual couples, protect themselves and their children, and demonstrate to one another and to society their mutual commitment [p. 9].
Can't those darn homosexuals just keep their relationships private and not bother the state for a marriage license?
This [district court] record included an explanation by some of the plaintiffs of the disadvantages and fears they face each day due to the inability to obtain a civil marriage in Iowa. These disadvantages and problems include the legal inability to make many life and death decisions affecting their partner, including decisions related to health care, burial arrangements, autopsy, and disposition of remains following death. Various plaintiffs told of the inability to share in their partners’ state-provided health insurance, public employee pension benefits, and many private-employer-provided benefits and protections. They also explained how several tax benefits are denied. Adoption proceedings are also more cumbersome and expensive for unmarried partners. Other obstacles presented by the inability to enter into a civil marriage include numerous nongovernmental benefits of marriage that are so common in daily life they often go unnoticed, such as something so simple as spousal health club memberships. Yet, perhaps the ultimate disadvantage expressed in the testimony of the plaintiffs is the inability to obtain for themselves and for their children the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage [p. 9].
And what interests could the state, through Polk County, muster to justify such disadvantages?
- promoting procreation
- promoting child-rearing by a mother and father
- promoting stability in an opposite-sex relationship
- conserving state resources
- promoting the concept and integrity of the traditional notion of marriage [p. 10]
The Court declares bogus the arguments for a state interest in banning same-sex marriage:
Maintaining traditional marriage:
...A specific tradition sought to be maintained cannot be an important governmental objective for equal protection purposes, however, when the tradition is nothing more than the historical classification currently expressed in the statute being challenged. When a certain tradition is used as both the governmental objective and the classification to further that objective, the equal protection analysis is transformed into the circular question of whether the classification accomplishes the governmental objective, which objective is to maintain the classification. In other words, the equal protection clause is converted into a “ ‘barren form of words’ ” when “ ‘discrimination . . . is made an end in itself’ ” [p. 53].
Promotion of optimal environment to raise children:
...The civil marriage statute is under-inclusive because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of parents—such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons—that are undeniably less than optimal parents [p. 56]....Promotion of procreation:
...The ban on same-sex marriage is substantially over-inclusive because not all same-sex couples choose to raise children. Yet, the marriage statute denies civil marriage to all gay and lesbian people in order to discourage the limited number of same-sex couples who desire to raise children [p. 57]...
...Quite obviously, the statute does not prohibit same-sex couples from raising children. Same-sex couples currently raise children in Iowa, even while being excluded from civil marriage, and such couples will undoubtedly continue to do so. Recognition of this under-inclusion puts in perspective just how minimally the same-sex marriage ban actually advances the purported legislative goal [p. 57].
...[T]he sole conceivable avenue by which exclusion of gay and lesbian people from civil marriage could promote more procreation is if the unavailability of civil marriage for same-sex partners caused homosexual individuals to “become” heterosexual in order to procreate within the present traditional institution of civil marriage. The briefs, the record, our research, and common sense do not suggest such an outcome [p.59].
Promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships:
We must evaluate whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships. The County offers no reasons that it does, and we can find none [p. 61].
Conservation of resources:
Excluding any group from civil marriage—African-Americans, illegitimates, aliens, even red-haired individuals—would conserve state resources in an equally “rational” way. Yet, such classifications so obviously offend our society’s collective sense of equality that courts have not hesitated to provide added protections against such inequalities [p. 61].... Indeed, under the County’s logic, more state resources would be conserved by excluding groups more numerous than Iowa’s estimated 5800 same-sex couples (for example, persons marrying for a second or subsequent time) [p. 62].
The Court even takes a couple pages to discuss an issue the County was smart enough not to mention—religious opposition to same-sex marriage (this is really important; bold emphases are mine):
Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained—even fundamental—religious belief.
Yet, such views are not the only religious views of marriage. As demonstrated by amicus groups, other equally sincere groups and people in Iowa and around the nation have strong religious views that yield the opposite conclusion.
This contrast of opinions in our society largely explains the absence of any religion-based rationale to test the constitutionality of Iowa’s same-sex marriage ban. Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them.... The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute declares, “Marriage is a civil contract” and then regulates that civil contract.... Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with civil marriage [pp. 64–65].
...As a result, civil 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.
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. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. [p. 66].
You're going to hear arguments (some might say pernicious lies) to the contrary, but the Iowa Supreme Court is making clear that they are defending religious liberty. And to that, religionists of all stripes should say Hallelujah and Amen.
By the way, anyone thinking the Iowa Supreme Court would uphold unequal protection under the law should have considered the Court's history:
In the first reported case of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa... we refused to treat a human being as property to enforce a contract for slavery and held our laws must extend equal protection to persons of all races and conditions. This decision was seventeen years before the United States Supreme Court infamously decided Dred Scott v. Sandford, which upheld the rights of a slave owner to treat a person as property. Similarly...[in 1868 and 1873] we struck blows to the concept of segregation long before the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Iowa was also the first state in the nation to admit a woman to the practice of law, doing so in 1869. Her admission occurred three years before the United States Supreme Court affirmed the State of Illinois’ decision to deny women admission to the practice of law..., and twenty-five years before the United States Supreme Court affirmed the refusal of the Commonwealth of Virginia to admit women into the practice of law.... In each of those instances, our state approached a fork in the road toward fulfillment of our constitution’s ideals and reaffirmed the “absolute equality of all” persons before the law as “the very foundation principle of our government” [pp. 17–18].