(This story was updated at 12:33 p.m.)
Shortly after 10 o’clock this morning, Iowa Supreme Court justices filed into a Des Moines courtroom to hear the arguments of lawyers on both sides of a case about gay marriage.
In 2005 six gay couples filed a lawsuit, arguing the state law which stipulates the only legal marriages in Iowa are those between a man and a woman is discriminatory. Assistant Polk County Attorney Roger Kuhl told the justices that the “historical” definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman, with the objective of having children to ensure “survival of the race.”
“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” Kuhl said. “I’m not being trite, you honor, but it’s an oxymoron to say ‘same-sex marriage.'”
Kuhl predicted the justices will be confronted with a deluge of other lawsuits if they rule in favor of the gay couples. “Next week we could be redefining the fundamental rights of polygamists,” Kuhl said. “This case has the potential to be very bad precedent for opening up all kinds of claims of fundamental rights.”
Kuhl said if gay marriage is allowed in Iowa, it will undermine traditional marriage and will undermine two-parent families. “The question arises: how does a father teach a daughter, a girl, to be a woman? How does a woman teach a boy to be a man?” Kuhl asked. “Our experts don’t believe that that is ideally done or well-done by a person of the same sex, by not having two parents of different biologies.”
Justices on the court questioned Kuhl, asking whether marriage was a creation of the state or a religious institution and questioning whether gay couples have a “fundamental right” to marry. After nearly an hour, an attorney representing the gay couples involved in the lawsuit took his turn to speak to the justices. Des Moines attorney Dennis Johnson began by saying the state’s constitution guarantees “freedom and equality” for all Iowans and Johnson said his clients were seeking “freedom of choice and marriage equality.”
“This court and the United States Supreme Court have made it clear that tradition is no justification to continue discrimination,” Johnson said. “…And really when people say, ‘We want to do this because it’s traditional,’ what they’re really saying is ‘We’ve been doing discriminating for so long that it’s a tradition, so we ought to be able to continue.'”
Johnson also addressed Kuhl’s argument that marriage is primarily about having a mother and a father in the home to raise children. “This state has already recognized by allowing same-sex couples to adopt, by allowing same-sex couples to be foster parents, this court has made it clear that sexual orientation is not even a relevant factor in custody decisions — this state has already basically adopted a policy that same-sex parents are satisfactory,” Johnson said.
Johnson concluded his appearance before the court by rejecting the alternative of civil unions for gay couples. “These are real harms to people, this lack of dignity and respect and equality. The State of Iowa should have no part in that,” Johnson said. “The state should give them full marriage equality under the same name as everyone else.”
Due to the widespread interest in the issue, Chief Justice Marsha Ternus took the unusual step of opening the proceedings with her own review of the case, saying it will be months before the court issues its ruling.