The Iowa Constitution (Article I, §6) says “the General Assembly shall not grant any citizen or a class of citizens privileges or immunities which upon the same terms should not equally belong to all citizens.” In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court interpreted this to mean that, if the Assembly grants straight people a state-sanctioned marriage, it has to grant that privilege equally to gay people. (Because, last I checked, homosexuality wasn’t grounds for revoking citizenship. And if gay people are gay citizens, then the privilege has to be extended to them equally.)
The Republican Party of Iowa (slogan: First In The Nation) calls this “unelected activist judges attempting to impose their personal views on the public.” (Those crazy judicial activists. They looked at the word “equally,” and forgot the part that says “except teh queers,” which isn’t actually in there, but c’mon, we know that’s what it means, right?) The Iowa GOP has decided that Justice David Wiggins should be removed from the bench, apparently for the heinous crime of disagreeing with them about what the word “equally” means.
Their press release is stuffed so full of boilerplate rhetoric about arrogant, unelected judges that it could have been written by a cliché-heavy chatbot, but I’ll give you just a taste of the magic that it contains. (Emphasis added for later parsing.)
“In 2010 Iowa voters chose to dismiss three activist judges who allowed their own politics to influence their obligation to uphold the Iowa Constitution. These three were among a handful of judges who chose to disregard years of legal precedent on the status of marriage and how it was to be defined. Instead of allowing the people of Iowa to decide this issue at the polls, these judges instead chose to impose their will upon the state and re-write history without weighing the merits of our laws and values. Regardless of political pressure or the state of cultural affairs at the moment, it is the people of Iowa through our elections that must be permitted to decide this important issue.”
- Their own politics: The Iowa GOP has just stated publicly that discrimination against homosexuals is a political issue. Voting Republican is a vote for bigotry, folks.
- Disregard years of legal precedent: This is code for “we passed a marriage amendment in 1998, and the first time it was challenged in court, it was ruled unconstitutional.” So it’s what those of us who care about such things colloquially refer to as “completely incorrect.”
- Allowing the people of Iowa to decide this issue at the polls: By virtue of living in a constitutional republic, the voters of Iowa have the final say about this issue. Although you wouldn’t know it from this press release, there is already a mechanism for allowing the voters to decide this issue. It’s called amending the Iowa Constitution, and the process is clearly defined in Article X, §1. If you want the voters to decide, get an amendment on the ballot, or STFU.
- Without weighing the merits: It’s true! The court ignored all the briefs submitted by the parties at the trial stage and in preparation for the appeal, the longer-than-usual oral argument, and the 24 amicus curae briefs submitted on both sides of the issue. The justices had a vigorous round of Rock/Paper/Scissors to decide the outcome, and drew straws to see who would get stuck writing the opinion. Then Justice (now Chief Justice) Mark Cady (who was appointed to the court by notorious liberal activist Terry Branstad) drew the short straw. Most of the nearly 70 page opinion in Varnum v. Brien consists of transcribed internal musings about what Justice Cady was planning to have for lunch that day. The remaining six justices signed the opinion by email from their beachfront villa in Cabo San Lucas. (A confused Justice Hecht, apparently the only justice aside from Cady to read the opinion, tried to order a Cobb salad.)
- The state of cultural affairs: In keeping with their statement that the Iowa GOP is committed politically to discriminating against gays, here the party admits that they’re in the minority that is still sorely afraid of marriage equality. Which is curious, since you’d think the last thing they’d want is a vote on an issue when a majority of voters disagree with their position. Oh wait, I think we’ve just figured out why they haven’t managed to put a marriage amendment on the ballot.
- It is the people of Iowa through our elections that must be permitted to decide this important issue: There’s an important point that shouldn’t be lost in the noise. Voting Justice Wiggins off the court will have exactly zero practical effect. It won’t roll back the decision, or make discriminating against homosexuals constitutional in Iowa. Voting no on retaining Justice Wiggins is a symbolic gesture, that will do nothing more than prove that Iowa Republicans can get voters to the polls merely by appealing to their bigotry and hatred of gay Iowans.
All of which raises the following questions. What does “equally… to all citizens” mean, if it doesn’t literally mean that everyone is equal? Is it more appropriate for the Iowa courts to be in the business of deciding who’s a citizen and who’s not? Or is that a question that the Iowa GOP has already answered for itself?