Twelve plaintiffs challenged Iowa’s marriage law because it does not allow same-sex couples to marry. The trial court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional. The supreme court unanimously affirmed. The court said the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman resulted in the denial of marriage benefits to same-sex couples, particularly, “the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage.” The court analyzed the statute solely on equal protection grounds, arguing that “equal protection can only be defined by the standards of each generation.”
The court first held that same-sex couples are similarly situated with opposite-sex married couples even though they cannot have children together because they “are in committed and loving relationships, many raising families” and “official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities.” The court believed society would benefit “from providing same-sex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples.” Since marriage is “designed to bring a sense of order to the legal relationships of committed couples and their families” the court believed the only reason the law could treat same and opposite-sex couples differently is their “sexual orientation.” The court held the statute classifies on this basis even though the statute does not mention orientation because “civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual.” The current law, the court said, prevents gay or lesbian people from “simultaneously fulfill[ing] their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship, as influenced by their sexual orientation, and gain[ing] the civil status and attendant benefits granted” by the marriage law.
The court held that sexual orientation discrimination should be subject to heightened scrutiny because (1) gays and lesbians have been the victims of discrimination; (2) no other state courts have found orientation relevant to a person’s ability to contribute to society and other state statutes treat sexual orientation as irrelevant; (3) sexual orientation is “central to personal identity” and “highly resistance to change”; (4) and gays and lesbians lack political power as evidenced by their failure to convince a
legislature to redefine marriage.
The court also rejected the County’s proffered justifications for the marriage law. It said that maintenance of the tradition of marriage is not a justification. It believed there was “an abundance of evidence and research” showing “the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents” and opinions to the contrary “were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies. The court said the statute did not promote the welfare of children because (1) it does not exclude all bad parents from marriage which “tends to demonstrate that the sexual-orientation-based classification is grounded in prejudice,” (2) same-sex couples are already raising children, (3) the statute will not result in fewer children being raised in same-sex relationships, (4) some couples who don’t have children can marry, and (5) excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not “encourage stability in opposite-sex relationships.”
The court suggests that “religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage” but religion is not a proper basis for legal distinctions.
The court thus struck the current marriage definition from the statute and said its decision would go into effect in 21 days.
Duncan adds: “The decision was unanimous that the marriage law is unconstitutional. It distorted the state’s interests in the marriage law and engaged in a little bit of mind-reading to suggest that the real reason a person would be concerned with redefining marriage is religious belief and that, the court thinks, is no real reason at all.”