DES MOINES, Iowa The Iowa Supreme Court handed homosexual activists a stunning victory Friday, April 3, ruling unanimously in the nation's heartland that "gay marriage" must be legalized in a mere three weeks.
The decision overturned a 1998 law that had defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Not counting California where voters overturned a court ruling Iowa becomes the third state in the U.S. to allow "gay marriage," and easily the most conservative one to date. Two states in the Northeast, Connecticut and Massachusetts, also recognize such relationships.
Conservatives immediately began urging the Democratic-controlled legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would overturn the ruling, but prior to the ruling, Democratic leaders had been resistant. A bill (HJR 6) that would define marriage as between one man and one woman has yet to receive a vote in committee.
The amending process, though, is lengthy, requiring passage by a simple majority in two consecutive legislative sessions before even making it on the ballot.
A Big Ten Battleground Poll last fall found that only 35 percent of registered voters said they would accept a decision legalizing "gay marriage." Fifty-five percent said they would support a constitutional amendment overturning the decision, and another 9.5 percent didn't know how they'd feel or refused to respond.
The seven justices, though, said the Iowa Constitution's equal protection clause requires that "gay marriage" be recognized. Their ruling upheld a lower court ruling that had also sided with homosexual activists.
"To decide otherwise would be an abdication of our constitutional duty," Justice Mark S. Cady wrote for the court.
Marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples beginning around April 24. The lawsuit was filed in December 2005 on behalf of six same-sex couples by Lambda Legal, a homosexual activist group.
Douglas Napier, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund, called the ruling "astonishing." He was born and raised in Iowa and practiced law there for 16 years.
"I don't think it's over in Iowa yet. If you look at the track record in the states, 30 out of 30 times when marriage has been put to the people, the people have upheld traditional marriage," he told Baptist Press. "I expect Iowans to follow that. … If a marriage amendment was put before the people of Iowa today, I think we would probably see some of the highest numbers in the country in all of the marriage amendment elections in favor of marriage. This decision does not represent Iowa."
The fact that the decision was unanimous was significant. Rulings by courts in Connecticut and Massachusetts to legalize "gay marriage" came via slim 4-3 margins.
"As a Christian, it is our joyful duty to love all people and to mistreat not, but we are not guided by personal opinion in matters such as this," said Jimmy Barrentine, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Iowa. "I am opposed to this decision. We are instructed by Scripture, which forthrightly condemns homosexual behavior."
Iowa, Napier said, should serve as a wake-up call to the remaining states that have not passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage.
"It tells states that don't have a marriage amendment that they can't wait for something like this to tragically happen in their states," he said. "If they're wanting to have their supreme court protect them, they obviously have seen a lesson in that today."