Constitutional Law

Iowa Supreme Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban


The Iowa Supreme Court has struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages in an opinion that notes other state rulings at the forefront of civil rights.

The court ruled the ban violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution, according to the Associated Press and the Des Moines Register. The ruling was unanimous.

“Our responsibility … is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time,” the opinion (PDF) said.

The Iowa high court took pains to point out that it has been out front, for the most part, in applying the equal protection clause to protect the civil rights of individuals, beating the U.S. Supreme Court to the punch.

In 1839, the Iowa Supreme Court applied the equal protection clause to refuse to enforce a contract for slavery, 17 years before the U.S. Supreme Court “infamously decided” the Dred Scott case in favor of a slave owner, the opinion says. The state was also the first to admit a woman to law practice, doing so in 1869, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision by Illinois to deny a law license to a woman.

“The path we have taken as a state has not been by accident, but has been navigated with the compass of equality firmly in hand, constructed with a pointer balanced carefully on the pivot of equal protection,” the court said in a footnote.

The decision makes Iowa the first Midwestern state, and the fourth nationwide, to allow same-sex marriages, the Des Moines Register says. Gay marriages are also allowed in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The California Supreme Court had also overturned a gay marriage ban, but California voters approved a referendum overturning the decision.

The Iowa decision could result in many gay couples flocking to the state for a marriage license, since there is no residency requirement there, the New York Times reports.

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