DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–In the first such ruling for America’s heartland, an Iowa judge Aug. 30 struck down the state’s ban on “gay marriage” and ordered Iowa’s most populous county to begin granting marriage licenses immediately to homosexual couples.
The decision by Judge Robert B. Hanson will be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, although its impact was felt Friday morning when upwards of 20 same-sex couples acquired marriage licenses in Polk County before Hanson issued a stay on his decision. In fact, one male couple — two Iowa State University students — acquired a license and got a judge to waive the customary three-day waiting period, and then found a Unitarian minister to perform the ceremony.
“They are now official. The marriage license is the official document,” Unitarian minister Mark Stringer said after the ceremony, according to the Des Moines Register.
It is not known what will happen to the licenses pending the appeal. Undoubtedly, though, Hanson’s 62-page ruling pushes the controversial issue of “gay marriage” to the forefront of the mostly rural state, less than five months before Iowa hosts its presidential caucuses — the first-in-the-nation test of the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Until now, such rulings have been handed down only in coastal or left-leaning states, such as Massachusetts, the only state where “gay marriage” is legal. Supreme courts in Connecticut and Maryland are expected to rule on the issue any day.
But despite Iowa’s conservative leanings, Hanson’s decision was a slam-dunk for homosexual activists. He said “marriage has evolved over time” and that “homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality.” He argued that the natural, traditional view of marriage reflects “old and overbroad stereotypes.” He even criticized the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
But perhaps most concerning to conservatives, Hanson rejected the argument that the state’s current marriage laws were valid because of the ties between man-woman marriage, procreation and childrearing.
“[L]esbian and gay parents are as effective as heterosexual parents in raising well-adjusted children,” Hanson wrote, before asserting that it is “well-established that children do not need a parent of each gender to be well adjusted” and that “children do not need male and female role models in the home to develop normally.”
The lawsuit was filed in December 2005 by the homosexual activist group Lambda Legal on behalf of six same-sex couples. Although the ultimate decision will be made by the Iowa Supreme Court, conservatives already are pushing for a constitutional marriage amendment, which would trump any state court decision. One reason conservatives already are at work is because amending the Iowa constitution is a lengthy multi-year process, requiring passage in the legislature by simple majorities in two consecutive sessions, and then approval by voters. The Iowa Supreme Court likely will hear and rule on the issue in the next year or two.
Baptist Convention of Iowa Executive Director Jimmy Barrentine said Baptists in the state will be involved.
“We will continue to do what we have done — we have taken a public stand that we believe that marriage is defined by Scripture and is a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman,” he told Baptist Press. “We have affirmed that in annual meeting sessions. We encourage our people to continue to deliver that message to their elected officials, and we’ve asked them to do that in a non-partisan manner.”
Hanson’s decision overturned a defense of marriage act passed by the legislature and signed into law in the late 1990s. He ruled that the law violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Iowa constitution.
“Plaintiffs’ inability to marry their chosen partners is a painful frustration of their life goals and dreams, their personal happiness and their self-determination,” Hanson wrote.
The decision, conservatives say, affirms what they have been arguing for years: Constitutional amendments, and not statutes, are the only guaranteed method to protecting the natural definition of marriage.
“It’s very disheartening and disappointing that the special interests — Lambda Legal and homosexual legal activists — would trump society’s interests in having strong families and homes where children can have both a mom and a dad,” Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, told BP.
But any push for a marriage amendment in the Iowa House and Senate likely will be an uphill battle, Hurley said. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats who so far have thwarted attempts to pass an amendment. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed cool to the idea of a marriage amendment, telling the Des Moines Register that people should “take a deep breath and calm down.”
“I cannot imagine them quickly or easily going against one of their core funders and constituency groups,” Hurley said of the Democrats.
Republican House Minority Leader Christopher Rants seemed more optimistic, telling the Associated Press, “I can’t believe this is happening in Iowa. I guarantee you there will be a vote on this issue come January [when the legislature meets again].”
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, issued a statement taking no position on an amendment. He technically would have no role in its passage but could promote it.
“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.”
Culver said he would “continue to follow this matter closely as it continues through the judicial system before determining whether any additional legislative actions are appropriate or necessary.”
Despite the push by homosexual activists for legal “gay marriage,” statistics show that once it’s legalized, fewer and fewer same-sex couples take advantage of it. In Massachusetts, 6,121 homosexual couples received marriage licenses from the state in the final half of 2004, the only half of the year when it was legal. But in 2005, that number dropped to 2,060, and in 2006, to 1,427. Through April 26 of this year, only 87 same-sex couples had “married.”
“Once marriage is available to homosexuals, they don’t choose it,” the Iowa Family Policy Center’s Hurley said. “That’s not commensurate with their lifestyle.”
Barrentine, of the Iowa Baptist convention, encouraged Christians in the state to speak the truth in love during the coming months.
“What we believe has nothing to do with any lack of love for people in the homosexual community,” he said. “It has to do with the biblical standard. Scripture tells us what marriage is and what marriage is not.”
Michael Foust is assistant editor of Baptist Press.