Friday, December 5, 2008

Thank you, Counsel, your case is submitted ...

Well, not yet. For starters, things have been busy around here, and unfortunately, I haven’t had time to do a lot of blogging. But I did want to take the time to let you all know that on Tuesday, December 9, the landmark case of Varnum v. Brien will be argued before the Iowa Supreme Court. In this case, the 7 justices of the Court will get to decide whether Iowa can constitutionally prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

For those outside Iowa, this case brought before the Iowa District Court for Polk County in 2006. In August 2007, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Plaintiffs, and ruled that Iowa law, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. The case has been appealed and is now before the Supreme Court.

The Iowa Supreme Court has previously been presented with two cases tangentially related to marriage rights of same-sex persons. This past January, the Court entered a ruling in the case of Schott v. Schott. In this case, the female Plaintiff adopted the children of her partner, also a female. After the couple decided to end their long-term relationship, the Plaintiff filed a petition to determine the custody status of the children. The Polk County District Court ruled that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. The Supreme Court reversed this decision.

In 2005, the Court ruled in Alons v. Iowa Dist. Ct. for Woodbury County. The underlying controversy in this case arose when the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County granted a decree of dissolution of marriage to Kimberly Jean Brown and Jennifer Sue Perez. The couple had entered into a civil union in Vermont and sometime thereafter, relocated to Iowa. Ms. Brown filed for divorce from Ms. Perez on August 1, 2003, and the Court entered the above-referenced divorce decree on November 14. The Court ultimately amended the decree, declaring the rights of the parties, but revoking the dissolution of marriage.

Despite the issuance of an amended ruling, the Plaintiffs in Alons—a church, a pastor, a few Iowa Legislators, and a Congressman—brought a suit against the Court, claiming that it didn’t have jurisdiction to dissolve a marriage that is not recognized in Iowa. The Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of standing.

Neither Schott nor Alons directly address the issue of whether the State of Iowa can constitutionally prohibit same-sex marriage. Both cases are cited by the Plaintiffs-Appellees in their brief, and will likely be used as support for the argument that same-sex marriage should be allowed in Iowa. But the cases could just as easily be cited for what they are: a case where a parent can file a petition to determine custody of her children, and a case where the Court declined to hear a Third Party’s challenge to court decision. When asked to read the tea-leaves, and predict how the Court might rule, the only prediction that I can make is that this decision will make some people very happy and others very upset.

For those who are so inclined, the parties’ briefs and the District Court are publicly available (I was unable to read them, given the busy time of the year). Additionally, the oral argument can be seen live online. U.S. Grant and I will be watching this case, and will provide our thoughts when the opinion comes down.

BY: W. Sherman

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