Marriage Equality in Iowa
The Iowa Supreme Court today unanimously struck down the state’s marriage law as a violation of the Iowa equal protection clause. I don’t have much to add to the well-reasoned opinion, but just wanted to call it to the attention of anyone who missed it, as it is currently buried in scrolldown-required small print at the New York Times and Washington Post websites. (Seriously, I know this isn’t the first state, but isn’t this still newsworthy?)
A brief summary, in case you don’t have time to read 65 pages: The Court holds that intermediate scrutiny is appropriate because (a) gays and lesbians have long been victims of invidious discrimination, (b) sexual orientation is unrelated to ability to contribute to society, and (c) sexual orientation is at least largely immutable. (The Court points out that it doesn’t need to find definitively that nobody can ever change his or her orientation to justify intermediate scrutiny; after all, some people change their sex.) Applying this standard, it then rejects all of the county’s proffered justifications for marriage exclusion. First, the claim that the marriage law should be upheld “to preserve the traditional definition of marriage” is tautological, and treats discrimination “as an end in itself.” Second, the claim that opposite-sex parents are better for kids has been disproven by a raft of studies, and even if it were true, marriage exclusion is a poor fit to the kid-protective aim: the law does not prevent gays and lesbians from becoming parents, and it does not exclude from marriage people who would undoubtedly make way worse parents, like straight convicted child abusers, while it does exclude gays and lesbians with no intent to raise children. Third, the related “promoting procreation” goal also lacks a substantial relationship to the law—straight people will not stop having babies because gays and lesbians can marry. Fourth, the goal of “stabilizing opposite-sex relationships” likewise has no logical relationship to excluding gays and lesbians from marriage. Finally, the goal of saving the state money in taxes and benefits could justify excluding any group from marriage, but intermediate scrutiny requires that there be a good reason to exclude this particular group and not everybody else.
Notably, this decision apparently will not result in an initiative campaign this fall. According to the New York Times story, Iowa law requires constitutional amendments to be approved by two consecutive legislative sessions, and only then approved by voters. That’s good news for marriage equality, because as demonstrated by the experience of Massachusetts (which has a similar amendment procedure), the longer same-sex marriage is in place, the more public support it gains. Given a little time, straight citizens tend to recognize that their own marriages haven’t fallen apart, nor has the sky otherwise fallen, just because other loving couples are also able to recognize their commitments through marriage.