Friday, April 3, 2009

Why Iowa Matters

Today the Iowa Supreme Court invalidated that state's ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples. The lengthy opinion is available here (PDF). The law profs and other queer bloggers in my blogroll will undoubtedly have many interesting things to say about this decision. Here, in a nutshell, is why I think this decision is so important:
  • Of the several courts that have ruled for relationship recognition for same-sex couples, this is the first unanimous ruling.
  • This is also the first such ruling from a court in a non-coastal state.
  • The ruling clearly rejects any substitute for full equality, such as civil unions.
  • Much as in Massachusetts, the Iowa Constitution is difficult to amend; it would take at least three years to do so.
  • The Court's opinion is very, very thorough, smart and readable; it does an especially good job of dismantling the state's arguments about "immutability" and "political powerlessness" (which, as I have discussed here, often trip courts up). Like the decisions of the Connecticut and California courts, this one provides an invaluable road map for other courts addressing this and many related issues. At the same time, the decision reached only as far as it needed to, ruling on Equal Protection grounds alone and sorting out some of the thorny tangles of Equal Protection doctrine while avoiding others when it was clear that, however they were resolved, the Iowa law would fall.
I think this is a momentous decision, indicating that despite the setbacks of Proposition 8 and the string of bad rulings in 2006, litigation is still one among several viable and needed strategies for LGBT equality.

Update: I doubt I can improve upon the great summary and discussion of the opinion over at Leonard Link.

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