Iowa celebrates first anniversary of gay marriage ruling

Sat. April 3, 2010 12:00 AM by Carlos Santoscoy

Des Moines, IA - Gay rights advocates in Iowa are counting down the minutes to Saturday. Some will gather Friday in Ames at the Unitarian Universalist church for a potluck dinner. Others will celebrate Saturday at a wine tasting hosted at the Cedar Rapids Gay and Lesbian Resource Center. Everyone is excited. Excited that despite numerous attacks from opponents, the state Supreme Court's ruling legalizing gay marriage is holding strong a year on.

The court's April 3 ruling was a sweeping win for gay rights advocates. The seven justice court unanimously agreed with the six gay and lesbian couples who had challenged the state for a marriage license.

The order was unequivocal in its demand: gay couples are equal under the law to heterosexual couples.

"[W]ith respect to the government's purpose of 'providing an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of persons,' same-sex couple are similarly situated to opposite-sex couples," the court said, adding that, "The Legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification."

At the time, only Massachusetts and Connecticut granted gay couples the right to marry. Since then, two more states – New Hampshire and Vermont – and the District of Columbia have legislatively legalized the institution. Maine was the first state to do so, but the law was repealed by voters before it took effect.

The Iowa decision – with its decisive mandate for marriage equality – renewed fizzling momentum on the issue after Californians voted to ban gay marriage in November of 2008.

On the day the court issued its ruling, one gay couple had already wed. Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, a pair of Iowa State University undergraduates, married on August 31, 2007. The men were the only couple to successfully secure documents and find a judge to marry them before an Iowa District Court ruling that found the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

A year and a half later, jubilation followed as dozens of gay and lesbian couples too slow to take advantage of the one day window joined Fritz and McQuillan, who welcomed them to the married life.

Opponents have not taken the ruling lying down. At rallies and demonstrations, on billboards and websites and at the Statehouse they are pressing lawmakers to put the issue up for a popular vote. Democrats, who control the Legislature, so far have managed to block Republican-led efforts to begin the multi-year process to amend the Iowa Constitution. The issue is certain to dominate this year's gubernatorial election.

But on Saturday, advocates won't have their parade rained on.

"Fairness won out, and Iowa continues to inspire America to follow its heartland to marriage equality," Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement. "The milestone marks yet another moment in the marriage movement when critics said we couldn't – but we did."

Article provided in partnership with On Top Magazine