Advances for Marriage Equality In Iowa and Vermont

This has been quite a day with regards to reducing discrimination against homosexuals. The big news comes not from one of the more liberal states on the coasts but from the heartland. The Iowa Supreme Court ruling was also a victory for separation of church and state and the concept that religious organizations cannot use the power of the state to impose their beliefs upon others:

The Iowa Supreme Court this morning upheld a Polk County judge’s 2007 ruling that marriage should not be limited to one man and one woman.

The ruling, viewed nationally and at home as a victory for the gay rights movement and a setback for social conservatives, means Iowa’s 5,800 gay couples can legally marry in Iowa beginning April 24.

There are no residency rules for marriage in Iowa, so the rule would apply to any couple who wanted to travel to Iowa.

Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady, who wrote the unanimous decision, at one point invoked the court’s first-ever decision, in 1839, which struck down slavery laws 17 years before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of a slave owner to treat a person as property.

Iowa’s gay marriage ban “is unconstitutional, because the county has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage,” Cady wrote in the 69-page opinion that seemed to dismiss the concept of civil unions as an option for gay couples.

“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” Cady wrote.

The ruling, however, also addressed what it called the “religious undercurrent propelling the same-sex marriage debate,” and said judges must remain outside the fray.

Some Iowa religions are strongly opposed to same-sex marriages, the justices noted, while some support the notion.

“Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring that government avoids them,” the opinion says.

The ruling explicitly does not affect “the freedom of a religious organization to define marriage it solemnizes as unions between a man and a woman,” the justices stressed.

Yesterday the Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry. One Republican has changed his mind on this issue based upon support for individual liberty:

Rep. Rick Hube, R-Londonderry, said he favored limited government and maximizing the ability for people to choose their own lifestyles. He said he had voted against Vermont’s first-in-the-nation civil union law in 2000 but had changed his thinking.

“This to me is not about religion, civil rights or the institution of marriage,” Hube said. “This to me is about being true to a set of principles. People should have the opportunity to make choices and have control over their own lives.”

Needless to say there is opposition to these actions from social conservatives. In the past I had argued that social issues, along with one’s view on Iraq, had replaced economic issues as the major factors separating left from right. Economic issues have become more prominent since the financial crash last fall, although in this case I think most voters are primarily looking for competence as opposed to any particular ideology. Decisions such as these, especially in Iowa, might lead to social issues becoming more significant if this remains a concern going into the 2012 primaries.

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