Iowa first Midwest state to allow gay marriage

Fri Apr 3, 2009 3:19pm EDT
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By Kay Henderson

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday struck down a decade-old law that barred gays from marrying, making the state the first in the U.S. heartland to allow same-sex marriages.

Opponents vowed to begin the difficult process of amending the Iowa constitution to overturn the ruling, while supporters said it may encourage other states to allow gay men and women to marry.

"We won. Not only that, it is unanimous and you are getting married," said Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, speaking at a Des Moines hotel to the six same-sex couples who brought the original lawsuit in 2005. The news set off a round of cheers, tears and hugs.

The ruling makes Iowa the third U.S. state, after Connecticut and Massachusetts, that currently allows same sex couples to marry. California briefly allowed gay marriage, but rescinded it in a November 2008 referendum. The ruling leaves 43 states with laws explicitly prohibiting such marriages, including 29 with constitutional amendments restricting marriage to one man and one woman.

In the Iowa case, Varnum v. Brien, the couples sued Polk County Recorder of Deeds Timothy Brien for refusing to grant them marriage licenses.

A district court judge sided with the couples in August 2007, triggering a rush to the courthouse where one gay couple managed to get a license before the ruling was stayed.

The state supreme court affirmed that decision on Friday, declaring unconstitutional the 1998 Iowa Defense of Marriage Act that restricted marriage to one man and one woman.

The key principle at the heart of the case was the doctrine of equal protection under the law, which the court said "is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike."   Continued...

<p>A same-sex couple in City Hall after their wedding ceremony in San Francisco, November 3, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>