Iowa Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

— Heidi Sfiligoj, News Staff


On April 3, in a unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.

The decision favored NASW's position as stated in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by NASW and the Iowa Chapter in the case, Varnum v. Brien. The case was initiated by six same-sex couples in Iowa who were denied marriage licenses by the Polk County Recorder. Other than the statutory restriction that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, the 12 plaintiffs met the legal requirements to wed in Iowa. The plaintiff couples argued that denying them marriage violates the equal protection and due process guarantees in the Iowa State Constitution. NASW supported a 2007 trial court's ruling that denying marriage to same-sex couples is unconstitutional under Iowa law.

The decision removes the language from Iowa Code section 595.2 restricting civil marriage to a man and a woman. It also commands that the remaining statutory language be interpreted and applied in a way that gives gay and lesbian people complete access to the institution of civil marriage.

"Iowa Code section 595.2 is unconstitutional because the County has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage," the court opinion stated. "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. This record, our independent research, and the appropriate equal protection analysis do not suggest the existence of a justification for such a legislative classification that substantially furthers any governmental objective."

The Iowa court cited evidence that "most scientific research has repudiated the commonly assumed notion that children need opposite-sex parents or biological parents to grow into well-adjusted adults" and cited the policies and publications of the National Association of Social Workers and other leading professional and child welfare organizations. NASW was joined in its brief by the association's Iowa Chapter as well as Youth and Shelter Services, an organization serving youth and families in Iowa, and the Middleton Center for Children's Rights at Drake University Law School.

Brief Filed in Montana. NASW and the NASW Montana Chapter filed a brief with the American Academy of Pediatrics in a same-sex custody dispute case, Kulstad v. Maniaci, before the Montana Supreme Court. In the brief, NASW argues that Kulstad developed a parent-child relationship with her partner's child and should be allowed to petition for custody and visitation rights to preserve the relationship. NASW states that the District Court's decision protecting Kulstad's parental interests should be upheld.

"An individual who has established a 'parental interest,' as defined by Montana Code 40-4-228, should be granted standing to seek to preserve the relationship he or she has developed with a child and should be given a chance to demonstrate that recognizing and maintaining that relationship is in the best interests of the child," the brief states.

The brief makes the following arguments:

  • The de facto parent doctrine is critical to protect the best interests of children.
  • Social science research confirms that, in appropriate cases, the bond between children and their non-biological, non-adoptive parents should be protected and maintained.

"More than two decades of social science research confirms that when two adults fully participate in raising a child, the child generally develops significant attachment bonds with both parents; that these bonds form notwithstanding the absence of a biological or legal connection to the parent; and breaking this parent-child attachment bond can be devastating to the child," the brief concludes.

NASW was represented by a pro bono legal team from O'Melveny & Myers, LLP, notably Luann Simmons and Sara Jeruss and by local counsel Thorin A. Geist.