Victory for civil rights and separation of church and state

Yesterday’s Iowa State Daily had an editorial about the need for separation of church and state in the issue of same sex marriage and equal rights, in light of the recent ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court. The editorial is reprinted here in full in the interests of maintaining the article (the Daily’s archives are less than ideal), emphasis is mine.

EDITORIAL: Take note of same-sex ruling, Midwest and US by ISD Editorial Board

Published: Monday, April 6, 2009 12:25 AM CDT

“Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” This is Iowa’s state motto, inscribed on the Great Seal of Iowa and on the state flag. Thanks to the Iowa Supreme Court’s April 3 ruling, these words may no longer carry a bitter sting for those to whom they do not apply. The principles of this motto can now ring true for every Iowan.

In a unanimous ruling, the case of Varnum v. Brien resulted in the decision that the Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. The decision further instructs that the remaining statutory language be interpreted and applied to allow gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.

We realize that same-sex marriage is a divisive subject. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea, generally because of the religious or moral tenets to which they subscribe. However, the ruling in this case is not a religious issue, but one of constitutionality. As the court said, “Civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals.

“This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.”

The fact is, marriage in the civil sense is not a religious institution. It is a legal institution. We wish the word didn’t come with both religious and legal connotations, because it makes it that much harder to separate the religious ceremony from the legal contract.

As an Editorial Board, our value systems differ on an individual basis. Some of us have a moral conflict with same-sex marriage or homosexuality. Others of us have beliefs that accept these practices with no issue. But we can all agree that this ruling is a well-deserved victory for Iowa’s gay and lesbian residents. For our Constitution, for the state of Iowa – for the nation.

The ruling in this case illustrates what is, and has always been, true. We cannot govern based on what one religion or one faction of society says should be.

Religiously, some people might feel this ruling is wrong. But from a constitutional standpoint, there is no debate.

As stated by the court, “Our responsibility … is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”

Iowa has an estimated 5800 same-sex couples living throughout the state. We applaud the court for protecting the rights that belong to them as citizens of Iowa, and of the United States. It is our hope that as the first Midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage, Iowa will set an example for the rest of the nation.

Copyright © 2009 – Iowa State Daily

I’d also like to pass this reminder to support the ruling from Craig Carpenter of Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers along:


I know many of you have probably received notices and requests regarding the Iowa Supreme court decision on Friday, but I would like to ask you to do one more thing. Please write, call or email your state legislators and the Governor to let them know that you support Fridays decision, the fight is not over yet, we have just won a very important battle, but not the war.

There are a great many people who will do whatever it takes to take us back to the dark ages of repression and religious doctrine, that must not happen, we may be the only thing standing in the way.

Craig Carpenter
Treasurer, IAF

Call for interviewees

Rashah McChesney is in an advanced reporting class in the journalism school.  She is currently working on a story about how religion and politics come into play when someone is choosing a presidential candidate.  More specifically, her story is focusing on how non-Christians react to choosing between two Christian candidates. Please contact her at rashah.mcchesney at gmail if you agree to be interviewed.

Note: This post previously refered to Rashah McChesney using male pronouns when Rashah McChesney is in fact a female.