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Iowa high court legalizes ‘gay marriage’


Editor’s note: To read how “gay marriage” impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here

Updated 4:15 p.m. Eastern

DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–The Iowa Supreme Court handed homosexual activists a stunning victory Friday morning, 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. Iowa is the first state outside the Northeast or the Pacific coast to legalize either “gay marriage” or civil unions.

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. In fact, the Senate majority leader and House speaker released a joint statement praising the ruling. 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.

“Marriage is, by definition, between one man and one woman,” Keith A. Ratliff, pastor of Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, said during a news conference following the decision. “We will now move to the Iowa House and urge them to sponsor legislation to let the people of Iowa vote on this matter. We are not discouraged. We are going to continue to fight.”

The decision, conservatives said, would have a negative impact on religious freedom.

“This means, by force of law, every schoolchild in Iowa will be taught that homosexuality is equal to heterosexual behavior,” said Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center.

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. Lambda Legal applauded the ruling.

“The Court’s decision is exhaustive, well-thought and supported by the Iowa Constitution,” Lambda Legal attorney Ken Upton said in a statement. “The ruling is legally compelling and consistent with the most basic of Iowa values — fairness, strong communities and protection for families.”

According to the Associated Press, Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, both Democrats, released a statement 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.”

They added, “Today, we congratulate the thousands of Iowans who can express their love for each other and have it recognized by our laws.”

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 Iowa Supreme Court has a history of trying to find unanimity in its decisions, Napier said. Lambda Legal targeted the state for a reason, he added.

“Iowa, for the homosexual agenda, presented the perfect storm,” he said. “They have a small population. They have unelected judges. They can always find a sympathetic judge [in the lower courts], and they did. They have a laissez faire population that doesn’t necessarily get involved in every issue. And they have a stop-gap that even if the supreme court went their way, the legislature would not be able to respond quickly with a marriage amendment. There’s no ballot initiative. They saw an opening and they took it. Unfortunately, the supreme court took the bait.”

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.”
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Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Richard Nations, editor of the Iowa Baptist newspaper

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