Iowa court to rule on gay marriage

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Gay marriage could come to Iowa this week.

A lawsuit brought by gay rights organisation Lamda Legal, on behalf of six same-sex couples, is scheduled to be heard tomorrow by the Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines.

The suit follows the ruling of Iowa judge Robert Hanson in August 2007 who temporarily annulled the state’s Defence of Marriage Act, a decade-old law that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The ruling stood for less than 24 hours before a Polk County attorney filed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court and a stay was placed on the ruling.

But in the nearly nine business hours that same-sex marriage was legal in the Hawkeye State, dozens of couples applied for licences.

Only one couple, a pair of Iowa State University undergraduates, was able to move fast enough to obtain a licence and rush through a ceremony before the stay was enacted.

Of the latest suit to be brought before the Supreme Court, Justin Uebelhor a spokesperson from the GLBT equality group One Iowa said:

“It could be a big step forward for Iowa and something Iowa could be proud of.

“It is important for Iowa to take the lead on this,” he added.

Chuck Hurley from the anti-gay group Iowa Family Policy Center spoke out against the couples’ suit, referring to the rights being sought by them as “anti-family”.

Until a final ruling is issued, Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan won’t know how long their marriage will remain legally recognised in Iowa.

On the morning of Aug. 31, 2007, the two college students filled out the paperwork for a marriage licence in Polk County, paid $5 to avoid the normal three-day waiting period and found a judge to sign the waiver form.

A pastor at the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines agreed to hold the ceremony on his front lawn, where it was witnessed by family and more than a dozen journalists.

Meanwhile The Supreme Court in California agreed last week to hear another case filed by Lamda Legal challenging the validity of Proposition 8.

The proposition was voted through on November 4 with a majority of 52% and proposes to change the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman, eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jenny Pizer said: “If the voters approved an initiative that took the right to free speech away from women, but not from men, everyone would agree that such a measure conflicts with the basic ideals of equality enshrined in our constitution,

“Proposition 8 suffers from the same flaw. That’s too big a change in the principles of our constitution to be made just by a bare majority of voters.”

California was the second U.S. state, after Massachusetts, to make marriage licenses available to same-sex couples in May 2008, before going back on this reform earlier this month.

Whilst the US federal government does not recognise same-sex marriage, under the Defence of Marriage Act, many states have their own legislature on the matter.

Marriage for same-sex couples is currently legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Legal unions to same-sex couples with all the rights and responsibilities of marriage are available to couples in Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire.

Maine, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington have created legal unions for same-sex couples that offer varying subsets of these rights.

However, twenty-six states have constitutional amendments explicitly barring the recognition of same-sex marriage, confining civil marriage to a legal union between a man and a woman.

Forty-three states have statutes restricting ‘marriage’ to two persons of the opposite sex and a small number of states ban any legal recognition of same-sex unions.