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From Varnum to Obergefell: Supreme Courts Consider Same-Sex Marriage

Clay Masters
Kate and Trish Varnum, of Cedar Rapids

Iowa was only the third state in the nation to legalize same sex marriage, but it was the first to do it unanimously.

Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen wrote “Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality.” Witosky says the unanimity of the decision and Iowa’s moderate reputation helped sway national public opinion towards marriage equality. He points out that polls started shifting significantly in favor of same sex marriage in 2009, the year after the Varnum vs. Brien decision.

“There’s been this gradual change in attitude and public opinion about the homosexual community as well as same sex marriage. And I think in a lot of ways, Iowa started that.”

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for and against states’ right to ban gay marriage.  Todd Pettys, Associate Dean for Faculty and H. Blair and Joan V. White Chair in Civil Litigation at the University of Iowa College of Law, says though the Iowa and US Supreme Courts have framed the question of equal protection the same way, Iowa has gone farther in its interpretation.

“The Iowa Supreme Court said that when a state makes distinctions between people based on their sexual orientation, you have to satisfy ‘heightened scrutiny.’ Which means the government has to have quite a powerful argument, quite a powerful justification, for distinguishing between people on that basis. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet said when it comes to the federal constitution whether courts should be similarly skeptical.”

On this hour of River to River, guest host Emily Woodbury talks with Pettys, Witosky, and Hansen about the respective decisions.