DesMoines Register: Iowa amendment eliminates many rights

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"Republicans in the Legislature were expected to roll out a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality in Iowa. They weren't expected to roll over so many other rights in the process, however.

"Their resolution calling for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution goes far beyond earlier versions, which would have simply limited marriage to a man and a woman. The language proposed by 56 House Republicans Wednesday would amend the Iowa Constitution to say: 'Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.' That bans not only the marriages of same-sex couples but civil unions and any other domestic partnership. That should worry all Iowans.

"The amendment is designed to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Varnum v. Brien that struck down Iowa's law denying the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.

"Denying fundamental legal rights to one group of Iowans is just wrong. The supreme irony is that this amendment would be plugged into Article I of the Iowa Constitution. That is the section of the document Iowa's founders in 1857 titled the 'Bill of Rights.' This would be the first amendment that subtracts rights, rather than expands them.

"If by some chance this black mark on Iowa law is put before the voters, we can only hope they will see it for what it is: an effort to discriminate against one small group of Iowans that happens to be out of favor with other Iowans at this point in history. That does not fit any commonly understood principle of equal protection of the law that is elsewhere enshrined in both the state and federal constitutions.

"Those who see matrimony as a sacred rite object on religious grounds to extending the institution to same-sex couples, but there is more at stake: Marriage comes with a large bundle of legal rights and privileges for the partners, and the Iowa Supreme Court rightly and unanimously concluded those rights cannot be denied to one group of individuals. That is unless the state can articulate a strong reason for abandoning equal protection of the law for that group, though no one has been able to cite any rational reason for doing that.

"... Saying marriage between one man and one woman is the 'only legal union valid or recognized in this state' would have serious and unpredictable legal consequences for many other Iowans, regardless of their sexual orientation. People organize themselves into varied domestic partnerships outside the bounds of traditional marriage. That includes not just gays and lesbians but multi-generational extended families, or unmarried couples young and old cohabitating for romantic or companionship reasons. Under this amendment, no court could recognize any advantages these people might enjoy, from income tax status to employer benefits, now or in the future.

"Either the House Republicans who drafted this amendment did not consider those implications, or they don't much care. Either way, they are wrong. It is time for courageous voices, from both parties, to rise up and condemn this proposed amendment."

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