Varnum v. Brien

Help us make the case for equality.



06/25/2017 (All day)
06/25/2017 - 10:00
New York
06/27/2017 - 18:30
District of Columbia

Our Sponsors


Lambda Legal has filed a lawsuit on behalf of six same-sex couples who seek to marry in Iowa. The lawsuit argues that under the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Iowa Constitution it is unlawful to bar same-sex couples from marrying. Since the lawsuit is based on state law, the Iowa Supreme Court will have the final word on the outcome of this case. The couples in this case have been together between five and over 16 years. Three of the couples are raising children, others are planning families, and all want the responsibilities of marriage and the protections only marriage can provide.


Iowa’s constitution protects people’s right to marry the individual of their choice and promises equal treatment of all residents under state law. The words husband, wife or spouse or some form of the words marriage or marry appear in more than 540 sections of the state’s laws.

Lambda Legal's Impact

If successful, numerous gay and lesbian couples in Iowa will be given the rights and benefits of marriage — including the important word itself.


  • December 2005 Lambda Legal files marriage lawsuit in Iowa District Court for Polk County; case will ultimately be decided by the Iowa Supreme Court.
  • April 2006 Twenty-six state legislators represented by an antigay legal organization move to intervene in the case as defendants.
  • August 2006 Court denies legislators’ application, ruling that none of the legislators had interests in the case sufficient for intervention.
  • August 2006 Plaintiffs move to amend their petition in order to add three of their children as parties, among other amendments.
  • September 2006 Defendant resisted plaintiffs’ motion to add the children as parties.
  • November 2006 Defendant moves for summary judgment.
  • December 2006 Court grants plaintiffs’ motion to amend, including plaintiffs’ motion to add three of their children as parties.
  • January 2007 Plaintiffs file resistance to defendant’s motion for summary judgment and cross-moved for summary judgment as well. Plaintiffs also file affidavits from leading child development and other experts who explain the need for marriage rights for same-sex couples. In support of plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion, Iowa faith leaders, scholars and religious groups file friend-of-the-court brief as does the Iowa Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a group of Iowa historians and law professors.
  • March 2007 Defendant files reply brief.
  • April 2007 Plaintiffs file reply brief.
  • May 2007 Summary judgment hearing.
  • August 2007 Victory! The Iowa District Court rules that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples access to marriage. The opposition filed for an appeal and a "stay" on the decision the next day which were granted.
  • August 2007 District court grants a stay of the decision, pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
  • March 2008 Lambda Legal files our brief with the Iowa Supreme Court, and is joined by 15 friend-of-the-court briefs supporting same-sex couples seeking the right to marry and the right of their children to have their families treated fairly.
  • December 2008 Oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court.
  • April 2009 Victory! Iowa Supreme Court rules that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional.

Case Information

Status: Closed
Outcome: Landmark Case, Victory


Kate Varnum, Trish Varnum, David Twombley, Larry Hoch, Dawn BarbouRoske, Jen BarbouRoske, McKinley BarbouRoske, Breeanna BarbouRoske, Ingrid Olson, Reva Evans, Jamison Olson, Jason Morgan, Chuck Swaggerty, Bill Musser, Otter Dreaming


Lambda Legal
Camilla Taylor, Kenneth D. Upton, Jr.

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Dennis Johnson of Dorsey and Whitney in Des Moines, IA