According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa's Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Iowa's equal protection clause requires the state to recognize same-sex marriages. The Iowa Court, in a sixty-nine page opinion, started by recognizing the role of the court in reviewing same-sex marriage cases; a topic we've had ample occasion to discuss around these parts.
As they noted at the outset: "[w]e approach the resolution of this case with a keen and respectful understanding of our Iowa Constitution and the vital roles of the three branches of government, as well as the role of the people." Varnum v. Brian, No. 07-1499, slip op. at 12 (Iowa Apr. 3, 2009). After noting that the constitutional question of whether a prohibition on same-sex marriage violates Iowa's equal protection clause provided a justification for adjudicating the case, the Court proceeded to address the merits of the equal protection argument.
The Court explained that, under Iowa law, the equal protection standard of review for this case hinged on four factors: (1) the history of discrimination against gay and lesbian people, id. at 37, (2) sexual orientation and the ability to contribute to society, id. at 39, (3) immutability of sexual orientation, id. at 41 and (4) the political powerlessness of lesbian and gay people. Id. at 45. Based on the factors, the Court held that Iowa gay marriage bans should be analyzed "under a heightened level of scrutiny under the Iowa Constitution." Id. at 49.
Proceeding under the auspice of intermediate scrutiny, the Court turned to strike down Iowa's marriage statute holding the statutory classification preventing gay marriage was not "substantially related to an important governmental objective." Id. at 50. In particular, the Court rejected the "governmental objectives" proferred by the government including " support for the 'traditional' institution of marriage, the optimal procreation and rearing of children, and financial considerations." Id.
I find the decision interesting for a number of reasons. First, I'm surprised the Court bothered to devote as much ink as it did to the "role of the Court" issue. As far as I can tell, there's really no separation of powers issue in this case, nor could there be. I think the focus on it shows how concerned courts are with the public reaction to these cases. Second, I think it's noteworthy that the Court declined to apply strict scrutiny, and opted to strike the marriage statute at issue down under intermediate scrutiny. Doing so, as I see it, sends a more powerful statement (much like the unanimous decision) which is important in the face of such adament opposition. It's unsurprising that other Courts have used similar tactics in the past. In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), for example, the Court struck down a discriminatory state amendment reflecting an animus to homosexuals under the low-level rational basis test. See id. at 632 (holding that the amendment "lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.").
So what's next for gay marriage? If the past is any indication, there will probably be more restrictive statutes, and public opposition. But this is a welcome victory for the movement that will be persuasive precedent in other state courts.
UPDATE (1:05 PM): A lot has been said since the Iowa Court handed down its ruling, and there's been some interesting commentary here and elsewhere. We wanted to take the opportunity to point our readers to some other ongoing discussions:
Above the Law- Iowa Supreme Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban
LawDork 2.0- Iowa Law: What's Next?
Volokh Conspiracy- Iowa Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision
We'll continue to post any other articles we think you'd find interesting.
UPDATE (2:55 PM): Building upon earlier predictions that Iowa will seek to "overturn" its Supreme Court's decision via constitutional amendment, I'm posting this article from Volokh Conspiracy which confirms that the process for amending Iowa's constitution would take a while to implement.