The ACLU of Iowa says it is supporting both sides on two issues involving gay marriages in Iowa. ACLU executive director Ben Stone says the group will represent same-sex couples who’re denied marriage licenses by county recorders.
Stone says they believe “very strongly” that county recorders have a legal duty as public servants to obey the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages. But on the other hand, Stone says the ACLU does not believe State Senator Merlin Bartz should be punished for asking county recorders to not issue licenses.
He says group believes the ethics complaint against Bartz for his action is misguided. “We condemn that ethics complaint because we think it is quite likely that Senator Bartz’s free speech rights would be violated if he was punished for what he has said and written,” Stone says.
Stone says recorders don’t have the right to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He says the recorders have a legal duty to do what they are told and citizens can get what’s called a “writ of mandamus” where a citizen can compel a court to tell the recorders to do their duty.
Stone says the Bartz case falls under the old adage that “we may disagree with what you are saying, but will vigorously defend your right to say it.” Stone says Bartz is an elected representative, but he has free speech rights too, and if he wants to tell recorders to disobey the order to issue licenses to gay couples, he has the right to do that. “We are deeply suspicious any time government is asked to punish speech,” Stone says.
Stone says people on both sides of the gay marriage issue have the right to speak up, but he says it has to be done without an “intimidating, mob-like atmosphere.” Stone says you can’t threaten people or force them to do things against their will. He says Iowans are good at understanding the limits and he doesn’t think there will be any problems.
Gay marriage advocates say they will have people at many county recorder offices observing and helping gay couples, while those against gay marriage are being urged to be present at the offices also.