[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Iowa [official website] held [opinion, PDF] Friday that a statute [Iowa Code § 595.2 text] banning same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] violates the state's constitution [text]. In the ruling, the court affirmed a lower court's decision that the statute's limitation of civil marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the equal protection rights of same-sex couples. The case was brought by advocacy group Lambda Legal [advocacy website], which argued that disallowing the marriages denied same-sex couples the right to make end-of-life decisions regarding their partner, access to numerous tax and employer benefits, and certain public recognition that comes with marriage. In defense of the law, the state said the limitation promoted procreation, child rearing by both biological parents, conservation of state resources, and the traditional definition of marriage. The court held that, where the limitation did serve state interests, it did not adequately target those interests to justify the ban on same-sex marriage:
We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification. There is no material fact, genuinely in dispute, that can affect this determination.
We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law. Faithfulness to that duty requires us to hold Iowa’s marriage statute, Iowa Code section 595.2, violates the Iowa Constitution. To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our constitutional duty. If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded. Iowa Code section 595.2 denies gay and lesbian people the equal protection of the law promised by the Iowa Constitution.
The court went on to address what it said was the religious opposition to same-sex marriage that drove the legislation, but was not brought as a justification by the state. It wrote that religious and civil conceptions of marriage were necessarily separate, and that constitutional religious protections prevented the court from defining one based on the other.
Numerous other US states are also addressing same-sex marriage. On Thursday, the Vermont House of Representatives passed bill explicitly approving same-sex marriages, but Governor Jim Douglas has said he will veto the bill [JURIST reports]. The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a similar bill [JURIST report] last week. Last month, the California Supreme Court heard arguments over the constitutionality of a proposition [JURIST reports] amending its constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In October, the Supreme Court of Connecticut overturned [JURIST report] a ban on same-sex marriage in that state.