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Same-sex marriage in Iowa

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Iowa since a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court on April 3, 2009. Marriage licenses became available to same-sex couples on April 27.

In 2005, six same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in Iowa filed a lawsuit in Polk County. In 2007, the Polk County District Court ruled in favor of the couples in Varnum v. Brien.[1] On April 3, 2009, a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling, making Iowa the fourth U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, after Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut.[2]


In 1998, following court decisions on same-sex unions in other states that suggested that denying the right to marry to same-sex couples was incompatible with the equal protection clause of a state constitution like Iowa's, Iowa legislators who hoped to avoid a similar court challenge tried without success to pass a statute to prohibit marriage on the part of gay and lesbian couples.[citation needed]

Varnum v. Brien

Six same-sex couples represented by Lambda Legal sought the right to marry their same-sex partners in Iowa. They brought suit in 2005 arguing that denying them marriage licenses violated the liberty and equal protection clauses in the state constitution. Judge Robert Hanson of Polk County District Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on August 30, 2007. The next morning, Hanson stayed his decision pending an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.[4][5]

Within two hours after the District Court published its ruling, two men from Des Moines submitted an application for marriage to the county recorder and their application was accepted. The next morning, several other couples applied for marriage licenses before Hanson issued his stay. Iowa marriage law requires a three-day waiting period between the initial application for a marriage license and the time the marriage becomes official, unless this waiting period is waived by a judge.[6] Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, residents of Ames and students at Iowa State University, were the only couple to receive such a waiver before Hanson issued his stay. After receiving the waiver and applying for a marriage license on the morning of August 31, the couple was married in a short ceremony that morning by a Unitarian Universalist minister on the minister's front lawn in Des Moines.[7]

Terry Lowman and Mark Kassis exchanging wedding vows at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ames, Iowa, on Sunday, September 2, 2007.

Two other Ames residents who applied for a marriage license before the stay, Terry Lowman and Mark Kassis, were married on September 2 in a ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames.[8] Lowman and Kassis' three-day waiting period was waived by a judge, however Hanson's stay occurred before the couple was able to record the marriage license. However, it is legal opinion that the marriage is legal within Iowa.[6]

Upon appeal, a unanimous Iowa Supreme Court affirmed Hanson's ruling in Varnum v. Brien on April 3, 2009. Using the standard known as intermediate scrutiny to evaluate the government's justifications for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the court determined that denying a marriage licenses on the basis of sexual orientation violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.[9] Licenses were originally to be available 21 days after the ruling on April 24, but the availability of licenses was postponed until April 27 due to a Furlough day.[10]

Despite the ruling in Varnum, the Iowa Department of Public Health has refused to recognize same-sex marriages when completing birth and death certificates. On December 12, 2012, ruling in Buntemeyer v. Iowa DPH, a state court ordered the department to list the names of two women, a married lesbian couple, on the death certificate of their stillborn son.[11] The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments that same day in the department's appeal of a decision in Gartner v. Newton that ordered it to enter the names of two women as parents on a birth certificate.[12] On May 3, 2013, the court unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling in Gartner and said that "By naming the nonbirthing spouse on the birth certificate of a married lesbian couple's child, the child is ensured support from that parent and the parent establishes fundamental legal rights at the moment of birth".[13]

Legislative proposals

A state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage has been proposed several times in the state legislature in the wake of the judicial rulings.[14] To amend the constitution, two consecutive sessions of the legislature will need to approve the amendment, after which it would be placed on the ballot for final approval by the Iowa electorate.[15]

An amendment was first proposed in 2008 but did not pass.[14] The Legislature did not vote on a constitutional amendment in 2009, and Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal said he would not allow one to be brought to the floor in 2010.[16] In a joint press release with House Speaker Pat Murphy on April 3, 2009, Gronstal welcomed the court's decision, saying "When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency. Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights."[17]

Democratic leaders of Iowa Senate and Iowa House of Representatives during the 2009-2010 legislative session opposed a vote on an amendment.[18]

In the next session, debate on proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Iowa attracted national news coverage after Zach Wahls, a college student and son of a lesbian couple, addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing on January 31, 2011.[19] A video of his testimony posted on YouTube went viral.[20] On February 1, 2011, with Republicans in a majority in the Iowa House, the House passed House Joint Resolution 6 by a vote of 62-37. Democratic leaders promised to block debate in the Senate.[21]

Same-sex marriage could also be banned by constitutional convention, which Iowa voters can initiate once a decade. On November 2, 2010, voters defeated a proposed constitutional convention by a 2-1 margin.[22]

Economic impact

A UCLA study has analyzed the impact of allowing same-sex couples to marry on Iowa’s state budget. The study concluded that allowing same-sex couples to marry will result in a net gain of approximately $5.3 million each year for the State.[23] This net impact will be the result of savings in expenditures on state means-tested public benefit programs and an increase in state income and sales tax revenue.


Between April 2009 and March 2010, 2,020 same-sex couples were married in Iowa, accounting for 10.1% of total marriages conducted in the state during that period. Only 815 couples were from Iowa, with the rest being from out of state, predominantly from neighboring Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska.[24]

Public opinion

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Iowa
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
 % support  % opposition  % no opinion
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20 – October 1, 2014 2,359 likely voters ± 2.2% 53% 33% 14%
Public Policy Polling February 20–23, 2014 869 voters ± 3.3% 47% 44% 9%
Public Policy Polling July 5–7, 2013 668 registered voters ± 3.8% 46% 45% 9%
Public Policy Polling February 1–3, 2013 846 voters ± ?% 46% 43% 11%
Public Policy Polling August 19–21, 2011 798 voters ± 3.5% 46% 45% 9%

Judicial retention Elections

On November 2, 2010, Iowa Supreme Court justices David L. Baker, Michael Streit, and Marsha Ternus, who participated in the unanimous 2009 ruling that Iowa could not deny marriage licenses based on sexual orientation, were removed from office after judicial retention elections.[25] Their removal followed campaigning by groups opposed to same-sex marriage including the National Organization for Marriage.[26] The three judges did no campaigning on their own behalf, but were supported by numerous third parties.[27]

On November 6, 2012, Justice David Wiggins won retention in the election, largely due to the fact that Iowa has reversed its opposition to same-sex marriage in recent years, now showing majority support.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Judge Overturns Iowa Ban on Same-Sex Marriages". The New York Times. Associated Press. August 31, 2007. Retrieved August 31, 2007. 
  2. ^ Corely, Matt (April 3, 2009). "BREAKING: Iowa Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Same-Sex Marriage". ThinkProgress. Retrieved March 4, 2014. 
  3. ^ Interview with Evan Wolfson, David Shankbone, September 30, 2007
  4. ^ "Iowa Gay Marriages Abruptly Halted". Associated Press. August 31, 2007. Archived from the original on September 11, 2007. Retrieved August 31, 2007. 
  5. ^ Henderson, Kay (August 31, 2007). "Ruling briefly allows gay marriage in Iowa". Reuters. Retrieved August 31, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b Simons, Abby (September 1, 2007). "Ruling applies in Polk, not to all of Iowa". Des Moines Register. Retrieved September 4, 2007. 
  7. ^ Miller, Kyle (September 4, 2007). "A window of opportunity". Iowa State Daily. Retrieved April 5, 2013. 
  8. ^ Laura Pieper and Luke Jennett (September 1, 2007). "Lucullan's owners set Sunday as wedding date". The Ames Tribune. Retrieved September 2, 2007. 
  9. ^ Des Moines Register staff (April 3, 2009). "Unanimous ruling: Iowa marriage no longer limited to one man, one woman". Des Moines Register. Retrieved April 3, 2009. 
  10. ^ Davey, Monica (April 27, 2009). "A Quiet Day in Iowa as Same-Sex Couples Line Up to Marry". New York Times. Retrieved October 22, 2012. 
  11. ^ Iowa District Court for Polk County, Buntemeyer v. Iowa DPH, December 12, 2012. Retrieved December 17, 2012
  12. ^ Danielson, Dar (December 12, 2012). "Supreme Court hears birth certificate case involving same-sex parents". Radio Iowa. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  13. ^ Neuman, Scott (May 3, 2013). "Iowa Court: List Both Same-Sex Parents On Birth Certificates". NPR. Retrieved May 3, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Linda Miller (March 10, 2008). "Funnel Week Survivors". Retrieved March 11, 2008. 
  15. ^ "Iowa Constitution, Article X, Section 1". Retrieved September 11, 2008. 
  16. ^ Iowa Independent: Jason Hancock, "Gronstal: No gay marriage vote in 2010," December 31, 2009, accessed June 1, 2012
  17. ^ Iowa Supreme Court: Gay marriage ban illegal, Southwest Iowa News, April 3, 2009
  18. ^ Glover, Mike (March 30, 2010). "A look at Iowa legislative session". Bloomberg Businessweek. Associated Press. Retrieved October 11, 2010. 
  19. ^ Zach Wahls: Transcript of testimony, accessed May 30, 2012
  20. ^ AOL News: Steven Hoffer, "Zach Wahls' Iowa Speech for Gay Marriage Goes Viral," February 2, 2011, accessed May 30, 2012
  21. ^ Bolcer, Julie (February 1, 2011). "Iowa House Votes For Marriage Ban". Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  22. ^ Scott, Monica (October 11, 2010). "What other states have done about constitutional conventions". The Grand Rapids Press. Retrieved October 11, 2010. 
  23. ^ M.V. Lee Badgett, Amanda K. Baumle, Adam P. Romero, and Brad Sears, The Impact on Iowa's Budget of Allowing Same-Sex Couples to Marry (April 1, 2008). The Williams Institute.
  24. ^ Tony Leys (May 18, 2010). "2,200 gay marriages in Iowa during past year | Des Moines Register Staff Blogs". Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Iowans Dismiss Three Justices". Des Moines Register. November 3, 2010. Retrieved February 3, 2015. 
  26. ^ Glover, Mike (October 25, 2010). "Gay Marriage Foes Back Push To Oust Iowa Justices". Associated Press. Retrieved February 3, 2015. 
  27. ^ KCRG Intern (October 13, 2010). "Vote 2010: Group Targets Three Iowa Supreme Court Justices". Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Secretary of State - Election Night Results - November 6th, 2012". Retrieved November 7, 2012. 

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