Alright, this is going to be a 2-part series on recent legalizations of gay marriage. One legalization I am ok with (Vermont’s); the other I am not (Iowa’s). This first post will address Iowa’s legalization of gay marriage. On April 3rd, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the clause in Iowas’s marriage law regarding the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman in the case Varnum v. Brien.
I read over the summar, and I’ve read over most of the opinion (I skipped over some of the section where I agreed with the court, since those sections were irrelevant to why I disagree with the court’s ruling). If you’re interested, here are the links to the summary and full opinion, respectively:
Alright, now the majority of the opinion is based on what is called the equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights in the Iowa Constitution (Article I, § 6). That clause reads:
Laws uniform. SEC. 6. All laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation; the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.
The Iowa Supreme court found that Iowa Code section 595.2(1) violated the equal protection clause.
595.1A defines marriage:
Marriage is a civil contract, requiring the consent of the parties
capable of entering into other contracts, except as herein otherwise
595.2(1) goes on to define marriage as between a man and a woman:
595.2 GENDER — AGE.
1. Only a marriage between a male and a female is valid.
Now, my argument would be that the equal protection clause does apply to section 595 (as it would apply to all Iowa laws). All persons have the right to enter into the civil contract that is marriage, whether or not they are homosexual, bisexual, or straight; however, if a homosexual person enters into that contract with a person of the same gender, they are not entering into a valid contract.
The Supreme Court attempted to address this problem – take a look at what the Court’s opinion said on this matter (I edited out some sections that just reference sources for space, but the following section starts on page 29 of the opinion if you’d like to see the whole thing):
E. Classification Undertaken in Iowa Code Section 595.2.
Plaintiffs believe Iowa Code section 595.2 classifies on the bases of gender and sexual orientation. The County argues the same-sex marriage ban does not discriminate on either basis. The district court held section 595.2 classifies according to gender. As we will explain, we believe the ban on civil marriages between two people of the same sex classifies on the basis of sexual orientation.
The County initially points out that section 595.2 does not explicitly refer to “sexual orientation” and does not inquire into whether either member of a proposed civil marriage is sexually attracted to the other. Consequently, it seizes on these observations to support its claim that the statute does not establish a classification on the basis of sexual orientation because the same-sex civil marriage ban does not grant or withhold the benefits flowing from the statute based on sexual preference. Instead, the County argues, section 595.2 only incidentally impacts disparately upon gay and lesbian people.
The County’s position reveals the importance of accurately and precisely defining the classification in analyzing all equal protection challenges. The manner in which a classification is defined impacts the utility of an equal protection analysis as a means of revealing discrimination. Therefore, it is critical that a court reviewing the statute identify the true nature of the classification.
It is true the marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex. Viewed in the complete context of marriage, including intimacy, civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual. Thus, the right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all. Under such a law, gay or lesbian individuals cannot simultaneously fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship, as influenced by their sexual orientation, and gain the civil status and attendant benefits granted by the statute.
Instead, a gay or lesbian person can only gain the same rights under the statute as a heterosexual person by negating the very trait that defines gay and lesbian people as a class-their sexual orientation. … The benefit denied by the marriage statute-the status of civil marriage for same-sex couples-is so “closely correlated with being homosexual” as to make it apparent the law is targeted at gay and lesbian people as a class. …
By purposefully placing civil marriage outside the realistic reach of gay and lesbian individuals, the ban on same-sex civil marriages differentiates implicitly on the basis of sexual orientation. … Thus, we proceed to analyze the constitutionality of the statute based on sexual orientation discrimination.
And this is the main reason that I have a problem with the court’s ruling. The court has absolutely no reason to be incorporating intimacy into the law. We are talking about the civil contract of marriage, a legal document. Legal documents do not involve intimacy and emotions. Intimacy can (and does) take place out of marriage. Therefore, when the court says that “the right of a gay or lesbian person … to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all” is completely ridiculous. They have the right to enter into the contract of marriage, but they need to abide by the laws that govern that contract, just like every other contract set down by the Iowa Code, whether that is a contract for a charter school or a contract for construction work.
So, I think the Iowa Supreme Court really butchered the Iowa Code here, and their “complete context” definition of marriage blatantly oversteps 595.1A’s definition, which contains no mention of intimacy.
I think the people of Iowa will pass a constitutional amendment whenever they get the chance to legally define marriage as between a man and a woman. I’m fine with a state choosing to allow gay marriage, but when it’s done by such butchering of the law, it makes me lose hope in the American legal system. And above all, we must remember that the definition of marriage is a state’s right. The federal government has never regulated marriage, and they shouldn’t now (unless the Constitution is amended) – this applies to both banning and legalizing gay marriage.