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April 03, 2009
Iowa High Court Says Gay-Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court of Iowa has upheld a ruling that found a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.

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In 1998, the Iowa legislature amended the marriage statute to define marriage as a union between only a man and a woman (Iowa Code section 595.2). Despite this law, six same-sex couples asked the Polk County recorder to issue marriage licenses to them. Following the law, the recorder refused to issue the licenses.

The state's Supreme Court ruled that the statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the Iowa Constitution's equal protection clause.

“If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded,” the court wrote. “Iowa Code section 595.2 denies gay and lesbian people the equal protection of the law promised by the Iowa Constitution.”

The court said that while other courts have allowed their state legislatures to create parallel civil institutions for same-sex couples, such as civil unions, "a new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution." Therefore, the state must allow same-sex couples to marry.

"The language in Iowa Code section 595.2 limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage," the court wrote.

While federal law still only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, the ruling is significant for employers because of the host of benefits and tax breaks for married couples governed by state law, such as workers' compensation.

Iowa joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in allowing gay marriage. In May 2008, the Supreme Court of California ruled that state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples are unconstitutional, but voters approved a ballot measure in November that banned gay marriage once again.

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