COLUMBIA — A statewide ban on same-sex marriage was deemed unconstitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court on Friday.
Similar bans have been overturned through court decisions in the past in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts, but the Iowa court's ruling in Varnum v. Brien marks the first such instance in the region.
“While the Iowa decision doesn’t directly affect Missourians, it shows that the trend toward equality is inevitable. The fact that Iowa is right next door to Missouri shows that marriage equality is not just a coastal phenomenon,” said A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, Missouri’s statewide advocacy organization for the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Lance Pierce, president and founder of Allies in Action, an LGBT advocacy group at MU, said the decision of the Iowa court is different than similar action occurring in San Francisco or elsewhere on the coast. Pierce said that because Iowa is not an extremely liberal state, the decision shows same-sex marriage is not a political issue, but a rational interpretation of existing law.
“It's a clear case of discrimination,” Pierce said of the overruled Iowa law.
The Iowa court's unanimous decision overruled a state law that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The court said the statute violated the due process and equal protection clause of the state constitution.
According to a news release from Steve Davis, communications officer for the Iowa Supreme Court, the court directed that “the remaining statutory language be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.”
Bockelman said the decision should “give hope to all Missourians who cherish fairness, justice and equality.”
Bockelman said that though Missourians can be married in Iowa, the union will not be recognized in Missouri because of a 2004 amendment to the state constitution that states “marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”
The Iowa Supreme Court's decision upholds the Aug. 30, 2007, ruling by the Polk County District Court which found the unconstitutionality of the law through rationale similar to what the state Supreme Court stated today.
“This is a truly historic day and a breakthrough for equal rights in the United States,” Bockelman said. “The fact that marriage is now a reality right next door in Iowa gives me a great deal of hope that we will be able to achieve equality here in Missouri, but it’s going to take a lot of work."