Same-sex marriage in the U.S. state of Iowa became legal on April 3, 2009.[1] Iowa's first dealings with same-sex marriage came in 1998, after recent court cases on same-sex unions, starting in Hawaii, found that denying the right to marry to same-sex couples was incompatible with the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitutions of most states. Iowa legislators hurried to pass a local Defense of Marriage Act to prohibit marriage between gay and lesbian couples to avoid a similar court challenge.

In 2005, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of six Polk County same-sex couples and their children who were denied marriage licenses in Iowa, arguing that this denial violated the liberty and equal protection clauses in the state constitution. In 2007, the Polk County District Court ruled in favor of the couples, prompting the county to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.[2] On April 3, 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld the District Court's ruling holding that there was no important governmental interest in denying citizens marriage licenses based on their sexual orientation. Licenses were originally to be available 21 days after the ruling, on April 24, but the availability of licenses was subsequently postponed until April 27 due to a Furlough day.[1]

2007 Polk County ruling

That’s a win. It’s not a final win, because the case is being appealed. But just a few years ago if people were asked if we could get a judge in Iowa to strike down the exclusion from marriage, right there in the heartland, I think most people would have said we couldn’t.

Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry on the Polk County decision


Main article: Varnum v. Brien

Judge Robert Hanson of Polk County District Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on August 30, 2007. The next morning, Hanson issued a stay of his decision pending an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.[4][5]

Within two hours after the District Court ruling was published, two men from Des Moines submitted an application for marriage to the county recorder; their application was accepted. The next morning, several other couples applied for marriage licenses before Hanson's stay. Iowa marriage law requires a three-day waiting period between the initial application for a marriage license and the time the marriage becomes official, unless this waiting period is waived by a judge.[6] Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, residents of Ames and students at Iowa State University, were the only couple to receive such a waiver before Hanson issued his stay order. After receiving the waiver and applying for a marriage license on the morning of August 31, the couple was married in a short ceremony that morning by a Unitarian Universalist minister on the minister's front lawn in Des Moines.[7] Two other Ames residents who applied for a marriage license before the stay, Terry Lowman and Mark Kassis, were married on September 2 in a ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames.[8] Lowman and Kassis' three-day waiting period was waived by a judge, however Hanson's stay occurred before the couple was able to record the marriage license. However, it is legal opinion that the marriage is legal within Iowa.[6]

Legislative proposals

As a result of Hanson's ruling, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was proposed in the state legislature but did not pass in 2008.[9] If approved in 2010, the Iowa Legislature would have to approve it again in 2011 or 2012, after which it would be placed on the ballot for final approval by the Iowa electorate.[10]

The Legislature did not vote on a constitutional amendment in 2009, and Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal has said he will not allow one to be brought to the floor in 2010 either.[11] In a joint press release with House Speaker Pat Murphy on April 3, 2009, Gronstal welcomed the court's decision, saying "When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency. Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights.”[12]

An attempt to bring a proposed ban on same-sex marriage to the floor of the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives was defeated by majorities in both houses voting to oppose the attempt.

Economic impact

A UCLA study has analyzed the impact of allowing same-sex couples to marry on Iowa’s state budget. The study concluded that allowing same-sex couples to marry will result in a net gain of approximately $5.3 million each year for the State.[13] This net impact will be the result of savings in expenditures on state means-tested public benefit programs and an increase in state income and sales tax revenue.

Out-of-State Unions

According to the Associated Press, out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples are recognized in Iowa. It is not clear whether or not out-of-state civil unions and registered domestic partnerships will be recognized in Iowa.[14]


Between April 2009 and March 2010, 2,020 same-sex couples were married in Iowa, accounting for 10.1% of total marriages conducted in the state during that period. Only 815 couples were from Iowa, with the rest being from out of state, predominantly from neighboring Illinois, Missouri and Nebraska.[15]

See also

States with legal same-sex marriage


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. Associated Press. "Judge Overturns Iowa Ban on Same-Sex Marriages", The New York Times, 2007-08-31. Retrieved on 2007-08-31. 
  3. Interview with Evan Wolfson, David Shankbone, September 30, 2007
  4. Associated Press. "Iowa Gay Marriages Abruptly Halted",, 2007-08-31. Retrieved on 2007-08-31. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. 
  5. Henderson, Kay. "Ruling briefly allows gay marriage in Iowa", Reuters, 2007-08-31. Retrieved on 2007-08-31. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Simons, Abby. "Ruling applies in Polk, not to all of Iowa", Des Moines Register, 2007-09-01. Retrieved on 2007-09-04. 
  7. Miller, Kyle. "A window of opportunity", Iowa State Daily, 2007-09-04. Retrieved on 2007-09-04. 
  8. Laura Pieper and Luke Jennett. "Lucullan's owners set Sunday as wedding date", The Ames Tribune, 2007-09-01. Retrieved on 2007-09-02. 
  9. Linda Miller (10 March 2008). Funnel Week Survivors. Retrieved on 2008-03-11.
  10. Iowa Constitution, Article X, Section 1. Retrieved on 2008-09-11.
  11. Gronstal: No gay marriage vote in 2010
  12. Iowa Supreme Court: Gay marriage ban illegal, Southwest Iowa News, April 3, 2009
  13. M.V. Lee Badgett, Amanda K. Baumle, Adam P. Romero, and Brad Sears, The Impact on Iowa's Budget of Allowing Same-Sex Couples to Marry (April 1, 2008). The Williams Institute.
  14. State of Iowa starts legal recognition of same-sex marriage Iowa State Daily, April 26, 2009
  15. Iowa's 2,000 gay marriages mostly from nonresidents

External links

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Same-sex unions in the United States

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