April 6, 2009
(RNS) -- Iowa's highest court unanimously ruled Friday (April 3) that a state law barring same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
"We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further an important government objective," the court ruled in affirming a lower court decision.
Iowa joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in recognizing same-sex marriages. Lawmakers in Vermont and New Hampshire appear close to legalizing gay marriages, while California voters last year approved a constitutional amendment that ended the practice.
Gay rights activists immediately hailed the decision, but conservative Christian groups promised to follow California's lead and seek a constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex unions and overturn the decision.
"We urge Iowans to contact their legislators and urge them to move quickly to pass a constitutional amendment protecting marriage, joining the 29 states that have already defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman in their state constitutions," said Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council.
The Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said he recognizes that "the struggle for marriage equality is far from over" for gay rights.
"This ruling recognizes the necessity for equal treatment under the law of all citizens and their families in Iowa and brings us one step closer to full legal equality for all Americans," he said.
The state Supreme Court made a point of addressing religious opposition to same-sex marriage and said its decision focused on civil marriage and was "far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics."
It noted that religious denominations can still define marriage as solely between a man and a woman but "civil marriage" will have a different definition that "reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law."
"In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage -- religious or otherwise -- by giving respect to our constitutional principles," the court wrote.
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