Des Moines, Iowa — The Iowa Supreme Court decided unanimously Friday to allow same-sex marriage starting April 24. The decision, handed down in Varnum v. Brien, came after six same-sex couples sued Timothy Brien, the Polk County Recorder and Registrar, after his office refused the couples marriage licenses.
“This is a great day for civil rights in Iowa. Get married, live happily ever after, live the American dream,” said Dennis Johnson, of Dorsey & Whitney LLP in Des Moines.
Johnson, along with Camilla Taylor and Kenneth Upton, Jr. of gay rights group Lambda Legal represented the couples.
“Iowans have always been independent and they’re used to leading the nation,” Taylor said at a press conference following the decision. “I think it states firmly that we are on the right side of history.”
There are no residency rules to apply for an Iowa marriage license, meaning any couple outside the state could travel to Iowa and get married—a potential boon for Iowa's economy. After Massachusetts and Connecticut, Iowa is now the third state in the country to allow same-sex marriages and the first state in the Midwest.
“I think the fact that the Court ruled unanimously speaks volumes,” said appellate Larry Hoch, 66, of Urbandale, Iowa. He and his partner David Twombley, 67, are retired teachers who have been together for more than seven years. Together, they stood beaming as they reflected on what they felt was a long time coming. “This is the happiest day of our lives," Hoch said. "Well, almost–but definitely in the top two.”
The six couples and their families hugged as tears flowed freely in response to the court’s unanimous decision.
“As a lifelong Iowan, I cannot be prouder of my state,” Twombley said.
Trish Varnum, 43, and her partner—and, as of this morning, fiancée—Kate, 34, have been together for seven years. The couple laughed when asked about the potential for their namesake in Varnum v. Brien to be added to the history books alongside other famous court cases like Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board.
“I’ll be honest, having [our name in the history books] doesn’t matter much,” said Trish. “There were six couples involved. It’s about all us—it’s about these couples, and it’s about every other same sex couple in Iowa.”
A rally in support of gay rights is scheduled for 5:30 tonight at Gateway Park in Des Moines, Iowa. Protesters and anti-gay rights groups are expected to make an appearance.
In a press statement prior to the decision, Chuck Hurley of the Iowa Family Policy Center encouraged opponents to the same-sex marriage to gather at the Judicial Branch building. “Please join us as we pray that Iowans (especially legislators and Christians) would respond appropriately to the Supreme Court ruling,” said Hurley. “[We hope they respond] by defending marriage as it has existed throughout all of history: the covenant between a man and a woman.”
In a joint statement, Iowa Senate Majorty Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy said the Court’s decision was simply a matter of Iowa common sense.
“Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights,” they said. “When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long.”
Same-sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government, but the Iowa Supreme Court is the final say in the legal status of married couples within Iowa. The only way the ruling can be reversed is if state legislators moved on the issue in two consecutive sessions. The issue would then be on a ballot for a public vote. Brad Clark of One Iowa said the earliest same-sex marriage could be put on a ballot would be 2012. Clark added that it would be highly unlikely to see movement on the legislation.
The case, Varnum vs. Brien, involved couples who sued Polk County Recorder Timothy Brien in 2005 after his office denied them marriage licenses. Hanson sided with the couples last year but then suspended his decision pending a high court ruling.
• Read the summary: Iowa Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.
•Read the full opinion: Iowa Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.
With reporters live on the scene, keep checking Think Magazine for the latest updates on the legalization of gay marriage in Iowa.
Becky Hansen, Jake Hukee and Kristin Looney of Think Magazine contributed to this story.
photo by Mark Micheli