Iowa Supreme Court Unanimously Rules in Favor of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Lambda Legal's Historic Lawsuit

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"Today's victory is a testament to the strength of love, hope and courage..."
April 3, 2009

(Des Moines, April 3, 2009) — Today the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a 2007 district court ruling that said it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marrying. Iowa becomes the third state along with Massachusetts and Connecticut in offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Cady said:

"We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."

"Today's victory is a testament to the strength of love, hope and courage — our clients have shown an abundance of all three for many years and now at long last they will be able to marry," said Camilla Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal and lead architect of the Varnum v. Brien lawsuit. "This will go down as another proud day in Iowa's long history of protecting individual rights."

"It's a wonderful new day for fairness. The Court's decision is thorough, well–reasoned and based on the Iowa Constitution," said Dennis Johnson, formerly a partner at Dorsey and Whitney in Des Moines who argued the case on behalf of Lambda Legal's clients before the Iowa Supreme Court in December 2008.

Iowa now joins Massachusetts and Connecticut in offering marriage licenses to samesex couples after decisions by state high courts that similar marriage bans are unconstitutional. The California Supreme Court also ruled in 2008 that denying marriage licenses to same–sex couples violates that state's constitution. In November 2008 California voters approved Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment which took away the fundamental right to marry only for same–sex couples in that state. Lambda Legal joined the ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights in filing a case to challenge that change as invalid. The case argues that taking away a fundamental right from a targeted minority group changes the meaning of equal protection in the California Constitution and that doing so through a ballot measure like Prop 8 does not follow the rules prescribed by the California Constitution for such a significant revision. A decision is currently pending in that case.

"Today's victory was made possible through the support of the LGBT community and our allies who have worked tirelessly for equality over the years," commented Brad Clark, One Iowa Campaign Director. "This ruling is a huge

step forward and a cause for celebration, but recent history demonstrates the need for continued engagement if we are to achieve lasting equality."

Getting a Marriage License:

Iowa requires a three day waiting period between applying for a license and receiving it unless the couple pays a $5 fee and a judge signs a waiver. According to today's decision county recorders can start issuing marriage licenses to same–sex couples in 21 days unless there is a petition for rehearing.

History of Lambda Legal's Lawsuit:

In December 2005, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit with the Polk County Court on behalf of six same–sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in Iowa, arguing that denying marriage to same–sex couples violates the liberty and equality guarantees in the Iowa Constitution. In August of 2007 the district court ruled that denying marriage to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Today's decision by the Iowa Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Statements from each plaintiff couple follow at the end of this release.

The Iowa case is: Varnum v. Brien

Camilla Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney and Kenneth Upton, Jr., Supervising Senior Staff Attorney are handling the case for Lambda Legal. They are joined by former Iowa Solicitor General Dennis Johnson of Dorsey and Whitney in Des Moines.


Lisa Hardaway; Email: [email protected]

Plaintiff Couple Statements:

Kate and Trish Varnum of Cedar Rapids: "We are just thrilled that we can finally marry here in Kate's hometown with our friends and family."

Jason Morgan and Chuck Swaggerty of Sioux City: "This is an amazing day — we're smiling ear to ear. Marriage and commitment are important values in our family and when we marry we'll be able to show our children just what that means."

Jen and Dawn BarbouRoske of Iowa City: "We've been waiting 18 years for this day! We have built a life and family together — marriage is the only word that describes our commitment to each other and our family.

Larry Hoch and David Twombley of Urbandale: "We are delighted with the Court's ruling. This is truly a day for marriage equality for Iowa citizens, and we're proud to be a part of it. We're thankful to have the security of being married as we grow older together."

Reva Evans and Ingrid Olson of Council Bluffs: "We are proud to be Iowans and to know that one day our son will understand how hard we worked to make sure we would be treated fairly as a family."

Bill Musser and Otter Dreaming of Decorah: "We are so excited! It has been an amazing journey — we couldn't be more proud of our state."


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