Iowa’s gay marriage ban fell quietly and conclusively Friday with a wonderfully crafted state Supreme Court opinion that upholds the rights of Iowans — not gay or straight people, plaintiffs or defendants — but of Iowans.
The state’s Supreme Court agreed with six Iowa couples who just want to get married and live in their home state. The justices smartly wrote on the qualities these couples share with many Iowans.
“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.”
That motto, for those who may have forgotten, is: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”
Let’s put that on the license plate.
Ban stood 10 years
In 1998, a vast majority of Democrat and Republican lawmakers felt compelled to single out gay Iowans as undeserving of marriage. It wasn’t much of a debate. The House voted 86-8 in favor with all Quad-City lawmakers voting in the majority. The Senate voted 40-9, with only one abstention. Then-Sen. Jack Rife, a refreshingly candid Democrat from Durant, abstained, observing, “What bothers me the most is why I’m dealing with this bill,” he said. “Whose priority is it?”
It was a priority of Republican legislative leadership, not then-Gov. Terry Branstad, who wound up signing the bill without comment.
Former state GOP leader, then-Rep. Jeff Lamberti, led the bill through his judiciary committee. “Only a marriage between a male and a female is valid,” he insisted at the time.
Rep. Dan Boddicker, R-Tipton, added the Quad-City region voice: “For us to define it any other way would create a whole new set of standards.” Instead, lawmakers in 1998 set an Iowa standard for discrimination, identifying one class of people and the specific right they were to be denied.
The legislature’s error becomes clear in Justice Mark Cady’s words.
The court also took not-so-subtle aim at those who say gay Iowans seeking to marry somehow undermine the act of marriage itself.
“Society benefits, for example, 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.
“In short, for purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, which are designed to bring a sense of order to the legal relationships of committed couples and their families in myriad ways, plaintiffs are similarly situated in every important respect, but for their sexual orientation.”
In every important respect.
The justices seemed to go out of their way to proclaim the societal benefits of marriage — child-care and a stable family structure — and affirm how the institution of marriage becomes stronger when it isn’t unconstitutionally withheld from just one class of Iowans.
Marriage will not only survive the inclusion of gay Iowans, it can thrive with more couples committed to the joys, responsibilities, forgiveness and support that define a fulfilled, traditional Iowa marriage.