On Friday morning the Iowa Supreme Court required same-sex "marriages" to be allowed in the state, claiming there was no "constitutionally adequate" justification not to do so. The unanimous decision overturned Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The state’s Catholic bishops in a Friday statement "strongly disagreed" with the decision, calling it "unwarranted social engineering" which "attacks" the good of marriage and the good of children while weakening the relationship between marriage and parenting.
"This decision rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history. It implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children," they wrote, saying that the rights of marriage "are not something that the state creates or may redefine."
The case before the Iowa Supreme Court, Varnum v. Brien, involved same-sex couples who sued Polk County Recorder Timothy Brien in 2005 after his office denied them marriage licenses.
Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady, writing in the court’s decision, said the non-recognition of same-sex "marriage" was unconstitutional "because the county has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for excluding plaintiffs from the institution of civil marriage."
"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," he argued.
The ruling claimed a "religious undercurrent" was "propelling the same-sex marriage debate" and said judges must remain outside the dispute.
"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 court’s decision argued.
Justice Cady also invoked the court’s first legal decision, an 1839 case which struck down slavery laws.
Iowa’s Democratic Gov. Chet Culver commented on the decision in an e-mail to reporters, saying: "The decision released this morning by Supreme Court addresses a complicated and emotional issue, one on which Iowans have strong views and opinions on both sides. The next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the attorney general, before reacting to what it means for Iowa."
Camilla Taylor of the homosexual advocacy group Lambda Legal said the decision fulfills the Iowa constitution’s "promise of equality," the Des Moines Register reports.
Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, argued that the ruling shows Iowa "celebrates fairness and equality for all Iowans."
Maggie Gallagher, president of the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage, criticized the decision, saying "once again, the most undemocratic branch of government is being used to advance an agenda the majority of Americans reject."
A February 2008 Iowa Poll showed that 62 percent of Iowans believed marriage should be only between one man and one woman, with only 32 percent saying it should not. According to the Des Moines Register, the poll showed majority support for civil unions.
"Marriage means a husband and wife. That’s not discrimination, that’s common sense," Gallagher continued in a press release. "Even in states like Vermont, where they are pushing this issue through legislatures, gay marriage advocates are totally unwilling to let the people decide these issues directly."
Doug Napier, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund in Arizona, said Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act was "settled and overwhelmingly supported."
"There was simply no legitimate reason for the court to redefine marriage," he continued.
Speaking in a Friday statement, Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality and a board member of Protect Marriage Illinois, characterized the decision as "judicial tyranny."
"Homosexual 'marriage' is wrong because homosexual behavior itself is wrong and destructive -- as proved by its role in the early deaths of countless 'gay' men," he argued, referencing Founding Father Noah Webster’s definition of the behavior as a "crime against nature."
LaBarbera further argued that "secular, public policy arguments" against same-sex "marriage" proposals ignored the evils of homosexual behavior.
The restoration of the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman will require the legislature to pass a constitutional amendment. The Des Moines Register says the amendment must be approved in consecutive legislative sessions and also in a public vote, meaning the reversal of the court’s decision might not take place until 2012.
The process could begin if lawmakers take up the issue in the next few weeks, but leaders said they had no plans to do so.
CNA spoke with Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) Executive Director Thomas Chapman, who said the ICC will continue to advocate a constitutional amendment which would "reserve marriage to being between one man and one woman."
He said the effort has a chance at succeeding, adding "a lot will depend on the reaction of the Iowa people."
"Some legislative leadership hasn’t wanted to take up the issue at all. We do have an uphill climb, but it’s doable if we can get enough people involved."
Responding to the court’s argument, Chapman said it was telling that the court argued that equal protection, the basis of their decision is "defined by the standards of each generation."
"That kind of tells you where they were coming from," he told CNA.
Addressing the court’s characterization of the marriage controversy as a "religious debate," Chapman said Catholics do believe what they believe in terms of religious dogma, but also believe marriage between man and a woman is "a good policy decision."
It is important that a man and a woman "bring something unique to marriage."
"Now the law is teaching that it’s not really critical that one should have a mom and a dad in the home," he remarked.
Asked to explain how such a decision could have been reached in Iowa, Chapman explained that the state has a "very strong" two party system where Republicans are typically very conservative and Democrats are typically very liberal.
However, considering who appointed the judges, their unanimity was "surprising" he said, even if the result was not.
"I think they did it in good conscience in terms of their legal thought, it’s just that we’re not in the same place in terms of what our principles are," Chapman told CNA.
"People can live how they want, but a small group of people shouldn’t be allowed to redefine marriage for everybody."