Monday, April 27, 2009
Iowa's Speaker of the House, Rep. Patrick Murphy's letter:
Thank you for contacting me about the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality. I’ve received a mountain of emails and phone calls since the ruling, arguing both for and against legislative action, so please accept my apologies for the delayed response.
The 2009 session wrapped up early Sunday morning and I wanted to let you know that we did not take any action in the closing days of session to amend the state constitution or negate the Supreme Court’s ruling. As the session came to a close, I worked to keep the House focused on our priorities of balancing the budget, rebuilding from last year’s natural disasters, and creating jobs for middle class Iowans.
I do want to share with you some of my own thoughts on the ruling. After reading the decision, I agree with the Iowa Supreme Court that state law conflicts with the equal protection clause of the Iowa constitution by denying same-sex couples the same right to marry that heterosexual couples enjoy.
It wasn’t a complete surprise that the court ruled that Iowa’s marriage statute is discriminatory, because this issue has come up in several other states, and two other states have already legalized same-sex marriage.
The ruling has no impact on any religious institution; it simply means that a county recorder cannot deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple. No religious institution will be forced to conduct a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple.
What surprised me was the unanimous decision by a diverse Iowa high court made up of Democratic and Republican appointees, and by the direct and dispassionate logic of Justice Mark Cady, a Republican appointee to the court and author of the Varnum v. Brien opinion. The unanimous court was unequivocal in its opinion that the Legislature, by enacting a state law that only allows marriage between a man and a woman, has “excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification.” If you haven’t read the opinion yet, I strongly encourage you to do so at www.iowacourts.gov.
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Though situated in the middle of the heartland of our nation, Iowa has a reputation of fairness and has always been a leader in protecting individual rights and liberties. We freed a slave named Ralph 26 years before the end of the Civil War. We ended segregation in our schools 85 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same way and the Iowa high court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations back in 1873. Iowa was also the first state in the nation to allow women to practice law.
While I do realize some Iowans have a different view, I don’t think we should be in the business of writing discrimination into the Iowa Constitution. It’s a document that argues for equal protection and tolerance of minorities and it’s an approach that has withstood the test of time.
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House Speaker Pat Murphy
Des Moines, IA 50319