In a unanimous 7-0 decision announced last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court held in Varnum v. Brien that the state statute limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.
The decision came as a shock to the average American. Most people don’t think of Iowa as a launchpad for progressivism. They think of corn fields, blue skies, farmers, home-cooked meals—and the traditional family values that generally accompany such things.
So where did Iowa go wrong? As Cal Thomas tries to answer in his most recent column, what’s the trouble in River City?
A brief overview of the history of same-sex marriage provides some insight. Three states have legalized same-sex marriage: Massachusetts (Goodridge, 2003), California (In re Marriage, 2008), and Connecticut (Kerrigan, 2008). Goodridge infuriated us more than shocked us, and the shock came only because the case was the first of its kind. After all, it was notoriously liberal Massachusetts. The California decision last summer surprised few; it may have been more surprising had the court come out the other way. And not much can be said about the Connecticut decision considering the state’s proximity to MA and affinity with Kennedys.
But isn’t Iowa different from the three states above? Actually, not so much. Where it matters, Iowa is the exact same as Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut. First, Iowa doesn’t have a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage. The only surefire protection for traditional marriage is a constitutional amendment. Although the Iowa law may have been clear—”Only a marriage between a male and a female is valid”— it was powerless against the activist court.
Second, the Iowa Supreme Court is very liberal. Five of the seven justices on the court were appointed by a Democrat, and the two Republican appointees are very moderate. No conservative will ever forget that Reagan appointed Justice Kennedy; and George Bush Sr. appointed Justice Souter. Just because a justice is appointed by a Republican, it doesn’t make him a Republican. It certainly doesn’t make him a conservative. I find it tragic that Republicans consistently appoint justices who turn out liberal, yet Democrats never appoint justices who turn out conservative. To find out what a justice thinks, read his opinions. Justice Cady is no conservative.
These two similarities between Iowa and the other three states, however, explain only how it was possible for Varnum to happen. They don’t explain why it happened.