.- As the Iowa Attorney General insists that county recorders must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, two groups have offered free legal defense to state county recorder offices that adopt a policy protecting employees’ rights of conscience.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruling mandating same-sex “marriage” takes effect on Monday. The proposed policy would protect an employee from being forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if doing so would violate the employee’s convictions.
In a Tuesday statement Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said county recorders are required to comply with the Iowa Constitution “as interpreted unanimously by the Iowa Supreme Court” and must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples “in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite-gender applicants.”
“Our country lives by and thrives by the rule of law, and the rule of law means we all follow the law as interpreted by our courts -- not by ourselves. We don’t each get to decide what the law is; that would lead to chaos,” he said.
“If necessary, we will explore legal actions to enforce and implement the Court’s ruling, working with the Iowa Dept. of Public Health and county attorneys,” Miller warned.
Doug Napier, Senior Legal Counsel for the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, responded to what he characterized as Miller’s “threatening” statement in a Wednesday press release.
Napier said that Iowa citizens enjoy the rights of conscience guaranteed in the U.S. and Iowa constitutions. He said these are “the very constitutions that county recorders swore to uphold when taking office.”
“Mr. Miller conveniently omitted any discussion of their rights of conscience or the recorders’ duty to protect the rights of their employees. This right of conscience protects individuals against heavy-handed coercion by the state, including the attorney general, and serves as the first line of defense against the cancer of tyranny.”
The Alliance Defense Fund and the Iowa Family Policy Center, based in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, announced an offer of free legal help in an April 22 letter to county recorder offices.
The letter cited the Iowa legal code’s recognition of the right of conscience which the letter said is based upon “the simple truth that it is wrong to force anyone to violate his or her conscience.”
The two groups proposed policy language and offered to defend the policy and provide free legal review and defense if it is challenged on the basis of its content.
The proposed policy says that employees “shall not be required to issue or process a marriage license, or to perform, assist, or participate in such procedures, against that individual's religious beliefs or moral convictions.” It also requires that objecting employees not be subject to discrimination in employment, promotion, advancement, transfer and several other areas.
Napier argued for the benefits of the policy in a Wednesday statement.
"Government employees who believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman should not be penalized for abiding by their beliefs," he said. "This policy allows an employee who does not wish to violate his or her own conscience by issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple to abstain and allow the transaction to be performed by someone who is willing to do it. Forcing them to participate in offensive acts contrary to their deeply held beliefs in order to remain employed is unconstitutional."
At least one Iowa magistrate, Third District Magistrate Francis Honrath of Larchwood, has decided to stop performing Iowa marriages in part because of the Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex couples to “marry,” the Des Moines Register reports.
“The Supreme Court ruling had something to do with it, but the truth is it's not just same-sex marriage I had problems with,” said Honrath, a Catholic father of seven who has served as magistrate for Lyon County since 1997.
He explained that he has often had reservations about conducting marriages for heterosexuals but until the Iowa Supreme Court’s April 3 ruling he did not realize that he could refrain from conducting any marriages and keep his job.
"It's a discretionary function," District 3 Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer told the Des Moines Register. "Some have never done any marriages. It's up to the individual and, to be honest, with everything that's going on, some are still unresolved on whether they will or won't."
More judges are expected to refrain from conducting marriages, which could possibly affect couples who wish to contract legal marriages.