Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Iowa Couples Suing for Marriage Rights

(Link) You just never hear things like "radical" and "Iowa" in the same sentence, but six Iowans are suing for the right to be just as married as their boring, stable, hetero neighbors.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
Des Moines Register

Two retired Urbandale teachers said Tuesday that they are challenging a state law banning gay marriages because they believe they're entitled to the same kind of committed relationships that they grew up with during the 1950s.

Larry Hoch, 63, and David Twombley, 64, were one of six couples named as plaintiffs Tuesday in a Polk County lawsuit fighting an Iowa requirement that marriage must be "between a male and a female" to be valid.

"If we were a heterosexual couple, we definitely would have been married a long time ago," said Twombley, who has been with Hoch for more than four years.

According to the complaint, Iowa's definition of marriage "draws impermissible distinctions based on sex and sexual orientation . . . all in violation of the equal protection guarantee of the Iowa Constitution."

The court case immediately renewed calls Tuesday to amend the state constitution to include the heterosexual definition of marriage.

"This lawsuit is an attempt to circumvent the will of the people," said Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center. "The people of Iowa should decide this issue, not a handful of unelected judges."

Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs said he remains "confident that the courts will uphold the current law."

"No further legislative action is necessary at this time," Gronstal said.

Camilla Taylor, a Chicago-based staff attorney for Lambda Legal, the national gay rights organization that filed the case — along with former Iowa solicitor general Dennis Johnson, now of the Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm in Des Moines — said the lawsuit "is about fairness and equality."

Court papers argue that Iowa law "penalizes plaintiffs' self-determination in the most intimate sphere of their lives" and denies gay partners a host of rights automatically provided to married heterosexuals.

Without the ability to marry, gays are denied tax benefits, the right to automatically inherit property without a will, the right to file for workers' compensation death benefits, and the right to make burial and health-care decisions, the lawsuit says.

Court papers say the 12 plaintiffs — from Urbandale, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Council Bluffs, Sioux City and Decorah — were denied marriage licenses by Polk County Recorder Tim Brien over the past two weeks. The 12 seek a court order declaring that it is OK for same-sex couples to marry in Iowa and demanding that Brien issue them licenses.

Lambda Legal has filed similar lawsuits in New York, New Jersey, California and Washington. "We've been working with some of these couples for years, and they shouldn't have to wait any longer," Taylor said about Lambda's focus on Iowa.

Sharon Malheiro, a lawyer and president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in Des Moines, said Tuesday's case marks the first "head-on" challenge to Iowa's law.

"I think we have a good chance of having the court look at the law and say, 'This is not fair,' " Malheiro said.

William Buss, a law professor at the University of Iowa, said a final determination of the issue is a long way off, since the U.S. Supreme Court so far has avoided making sweeping rulings on gay rights issues. "It's an uphill battle, but it's not Mount Everest," Buss said.

---- The Couples ----

David Twombley, 64, and Larry Hoch, 63, Urbandale:
The men who have been together for more than four years are retired teachers and active in their churches. They said they want to marry because as they age they increasingly feel vulnerable and wonder if their wishes will be respected in medical emergencies.

Dawn and Jen BarbouRoske, 37 and 35, Iowa City:
The women have been together for more than 15 years and have two daughters, ages 7 and 3. They have formed a play group for gay and lesbian families and both serve as Girl Scout leaders. After Jen delivered their older daughter eight weeks early, they realized that Dawn could be prevented from being with the baby in the hospital because she was not legally related to either the mother or the baby.

Jason Morgan, 35, and Chuck Swaggerty, 33, Sioux City:
The men have been together for eight years. They attend church together and enjoy restoring their house, where they someday hope to hold their wedding. When Swaggerty's mother died suddenly, Morgan tried to take bereavement leave from his new job to attend the funeral 10 hours away. Although he was not fired for the absence, he said, his personnel record was marked with an unexcused absence.

Kate Varnum, 31, and Trish Hyde, 40, Cedar Rapids:
The couple have been together for nearly five years and say they have trouble when filling out forms because they can't accurately check either the "single" or "married" box. "Without marriage there is no way for me to declare who Trish is in my life," said Varnum.

Ingrid Olson, 27, and Reva Evans, 31, Council Bluffs:
A couple for nearly eight years, they live in a house that has been in Reva's family since it was built in 1918. Last year they celebrated their devotion to one another with a ceremony attended by over 200 friends and family. As they plan for a family, they want to marry so that their family will be treated fairly.

Bill Musser, 47, and Otter Dreaming, 48, Decorah:
The couple of four years are licensed foster parents and someday hope to adopt a child. They want to marry because they want their family to have access to the protections marriage provides.