Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Varnum v. Brien case brief

Varnum v. Brien case brief summary
763 N.W.2d 862 (2009)

Defendant county appealed summary judgment granted by the Iowa District Court for Polk County in favor of plaintiffs, six same-sex couples, challenging the district court's holding that Iowa Code § 595.2 (2009), which prohibited same-sex marriages, was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution, Iowa Constitutional art. I, § 6.

Six same-sex couples filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Iowa Code § 595.2(1) (2009). The parties moved for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the couples, ruling that Iowa Code § 595.2violated Iowa Constitutional art. I, § 6.


  • On review of the district court ruling that the statute violated equal protection rights, the court concluded that excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage was not substantially related to any important governmental objective. 
  • The court held that legislative classifications based on sexual orientation had to be examined under a heightened level of scrutiny under the Iowa Constitution. 
  • The court had a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law and faithfulness to that duty required a conclusion that Iowa Code § 595.2 violated the Iowa Constitution; if gay and lesbian people were required to submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they were deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed. The language in Iowa Code § 595.2(1) that limited civil marriage to a man and a woman was to be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language was to be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.

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