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Further Iowa Thoughts


I’ve only glanced at the Iowa decision, so this is nothing like a final or fully considered analysis. Still, I was struck by one particular phrase in the decision: “In addition, their [i.e. same-sex couples’] exclusion [from marriage] defeats the state’s admitted interest in the welfare of all [emphasis original] of its children, regardless of whether they are parented by different-sex couples, same-sex couples or any other family unit [p. 58, my emphasis].

That last phrase, “or any other family unit,” is pretty interesting. True, the ruling speaks often of “couples.” Yet the logic of the ruling, as quoted, seems awfully close to the radical position staked out by the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” manifesto. What about the interest of the state in children parented in families consisting of a gay sperm donor (and perhaps his partner), along with a lesbian couple (i.e. triple or quadruple parenting)? What about the interest of the state in the welfare of children parented by a group of heterosexual polyamorists? The phrase “or any other family unit,” would seem to imply that, as this ruling notes in the case of same-sex couples, the benefits attaching to marriage could improve the lot of children in these types of family unit as well.

Some of these unorthodox family units come about through the use of various forms of assisted reproduction, and the ruling explicitly rejects the notion that a class of family unit that can only be formed through assisted reproduction should constitute any kind of limitation on the application of the benefits of marriage. So this would seem to open the door, in principle, to some novel family forms (such as triple and quadruple parenting).

Again, this is only a very preliminary take. It may be that other parts of the ruling counteract what appear to be the very sweeping implications of that phrase. In any case, at first glance, this decision would appear to provide a good deal of comfort for the folks behind the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” movement. In the short term, that won’t mean much. But over the long term, other radical decisions could perhaps build upon this sort of argument.