A Polk County judge Thursday struck down Iowa’s law banning same sex marriages. Des Moines lawyer Dennis Johnson represented six gay couples who were denied marriage licenses and filed a lawsuit challenging the law. "I think it’s a great day for civil rights in the state of Iowa," Johnson said in response to the ruling from Judge Robert Hanson. Johnson calls Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Law, which passed in 1998, "mean spirited."
Johnson says the six same-sex couples deserve the same legal benefits that other Iowa families receive because of marriage. "Our clients were being denied those benefits simply because of their sexual orientation," Johnson says, "and that was a denial of equal protection under the Iowa constitution. Judge Hanson concluded, and I think correctly, that there was no rational basis for denying same-sex couples and their families the same benefits that other Iowans receive." The county is expected to appeal the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court.
House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City says quick action must be taken in response to the ruling. "I think a lot of people are going to be scratching their heads, just can’t believe that this has happened here in Iowa," Rants says. Rants says the governor has talked about convening a special legislative session to deal with the Iowa Caucuses date, and he says this issue should be on the agenda, too. If it’s not, Rants says the legislature should address it first thing in January.
Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman have failed in the legislature, as opponents said Iowa already had a law on the issue. Rants says a lot of politicians have tried to "hide on the issue" because Iowa has the law. Rants says: "Obviously they were wrong. The law’s been tossed out. A quick and simple answer to this is a constitutional amendment that says marriage is between one man and one woman, and that’s what it is."
Rants says the legislature needs to act as soon as possible. He says, "This is gonna be four-square before the legislature when it reconvenes, it needs to be, we should overturn this." Rants says if you’re and elected official in Iowa, "you’re gonna have to make a decision on this issue. You can’t ride the fence, you can’t play hide and seek, you’re gonna have to deal with it, make a decision, and stand by it."
Governor Chet Culver issued a statement late Thursday. "While some Iowans may disagree on this issue, I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman," Culver said. "I also believe in the rule of law and respect for the judicial process. I have not had the opportunity to review today’s opinion from the Polk County District Court. I understand this ruling is one step that is subject to appeal, up to and including the Supreme Court. I will continue to follow this matter closely as it continues through the judicial system before determining whether any additional legislative actions are appropriate or necessary."
Senator Mike Gronstal, the top Democrat in the Iowa Senate, urged lawmakers to wait ’til the case works itself through the appeals process and is ruled upon by the Iowa Supreme Court before taking action.
Two Republican presidential candidates issued statements on the topic. "The ruling in Iowa today is another example of an activist court and unelected judges trying to redefine marriage and disregard the will of the people as expressed through Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act," Mitt Romney said in a statement issued by his campaign. "This once again highlights the need for a Federal Marriage Amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman."
"Today was a loss for the traditional family, and I am disappointed that a judge would thwart the will of the people," John McCain said in a statement. "I have always supported the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. The ruling of the court only reinforces my belief that we must have a president who is committed to appointing strict constructionists to the bench."