Tag Archives: iowa supreme court

Co-author of book about how Iowa approved gay marriage appears at Boswell Books

Tom Witosky appears at Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer St., at 7 p.m. this evening to discuss the book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality.

Witosky and Mark Hansen — both award-winning journalists — co-authored the book, which chronicles the unique circumstances and series of events that led to Iowa’s Supreme Court unanimously ruling to legalize same-sex marriage in the case Varnum v. Brien. Iowa unexpectedly became the nation’s third state to approve same-sex marriage.

Unlike previous court decisions asserting the right to marriage for gays and lesbians, Iowa’s decision was unanimous. “It catalyzed the unprecedented and rapid shift in law and public opinion that continues today,” according to the University of Iowa Press, which published the much-lauded book.

Iowa Supreme Court rules for lesbian parents

The Iowa Supreme Court, Varnum v. Brien, today ruled that same-sex couples and their families must be treated equally under Iowa law and ordered the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide an accurate two-parent birth certificate to all children born to lesbian married parents in Iowa.

The court was unanimous in ordering the state to treat children of lesbian couples as having two parents at birth.

“By naming the nonbirthing spouse on the birth certificate of a married lesbian couple’s child, the child is ensured support from that parent and the parent establishes fundamental legal rights at the moment of birth. Therefore, the only explanation for not listing the nonbirthing lesbian spouse on the birth certificate is stereotype or prejudice,” the court said.

Camila Taylor of Lamba Legal, which argued the case, stated, “We take for granted that a husband is the father of a child born to his wife through reproductive technology – regardless of whether he is his child’s genetic parent. The same marital protection for both parents’ relationships to their child holds true for same-sex couples and their children. This is great news for the Gartner family and for the long list of children who have been born to married same-sex parents since 2009 and who have been waiting for a two-parent birth certificate that reflects their family.”

Iowa, according to Lambda, now joins every other state that permits same-sex couples to marry, enter into civil unions, or enter comprehensive domestic partnerships, in issuing birth certificates to children of same-sex couples in a legal relationship on the same terms as to children of married different-sex couples.

The Lambda case involved Mackenzie Gartner, who was born in September 2009, and moms Heather and Melissa Gartner, a lesbian couple who legally married in Iowa before Mackenzie was born. After receiving a birth certificate that listed Heather as the only parent, the couple requested a corrected birth certificate listing both spouses as Mackenzie’s parents.

Iowa’s Department of Public Health denied the request on the ground that Melissa is not Mackenzie’s genetic parent. However, Iowa law establishes that a child born to married parents is the legitimate child of both spouses regardless of genetic relationship, and requires the IDPH to list both spouses as parents on the birth certificate accordingly.

In May 2010, Lambda sued on behalf of Mackenzie Gartner.

In January 2012, the Iowa District Court for Polk County ordered the IDPH to issue an accurate birth certificate to Mackenzie, which it did while also appealing that court’s decision.

“We are both thrilled and relieved. We just want our child to have the same respect and treatment that every other child born to married parents receives, and now we can move forward,” said Heather Gartner in a news release from Lambda.

Iowa Supreme Court: Bosses can fire ‘irresistible’ workers to protect marriage

A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa State Supreme Court ruled late last week.

The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong.

Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.

An attorney for Fort Dodge dentist James Knight said the decision, the first of its kind in Iowa, is a victory for “family values” because Knight fired Melissa Nelson in the interest of saving his marriage, not because she was a woman.

But Nelson’s attorney said Iowa’s all-male high court, one of only a handful in the nation, failed to recognize the discrimination that women see routinely in the workplace.

“These judges sent a message to Iowa women that they don’t think men can be held responsible for their sexual desires and that Iowa women are the ones who have to monitor and control their bosses’ sexual desires,” said attorney Paige Fiedler. “If they get out of hand, then the women can be legally fired for it.”

Nelson, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.

He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”

Knight and Nelson – both married with children – started exchanging text messages, mostly about personal matters, such as their families. Knight’s wife, who also worked in the dental office, found out about the messages and demanded Nelson be fired. The Knights consulted with their pastor, who agreed that terminating Nelson was appropriate.

Knight fired Nelson and gave her one month’s severance. He later told Nelson’s husband that he worried he was getting too personally attached and feared he would eventually try to start an affair with her.

Nelson was stunned because she viewed the 53-year-old Knight as a father figure and had never been interested in starting a relationship, Fiedler said.

Nelson filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination, arguing she would not have been terminated if she was male. She did not allege sexual harassment because Knight’s conduct may not have risen to that level and didn’t particularly offend her, Fiedler said.

Knight argued Nelson was fired not because of her gender, but because her continued employment threatened his marriage. A district judge agreed, dismissing the case before trial, and the high court upheld that ruling.

Mansfield noted that Knight had an all-female workforce and Nelson was replaced by a woman.

He said the decision was in line with state and federal court rulings that found workers can be fired for relationships that cause jealousy and tension within a business owner’s family. One such case from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a business owner’s firing of a valued employee who was seen by his wife as a threat to their marriage. In that case, the fired employee had engaged in flirtatious conduct.

Mansfield said allowing Nelson’s lawsuit would stretch the definition of discrimination to allow anyone fired over a relationship to file a claim arguing they would not have been fired but for their gender.

Knight’s attorney, Stuart Cochrane, said the court got it right. The decision clarified that bosses can make decisions showing favoritism to a family member without committing discrimination; in this case, by allowing Knight to honor his wife’s wishes to fire Nelson, he said.

Knight is a very religious and moral individual, and he sincerely believed that firing Nelson would be best for all parties, he said.

“While there was really no fault on the part of Mrs. Nelson, it was just as clear the decision to terminate her was not related to the fact that she was a woman,” he said. “The motives behind Dr. Knight terminating Mrs. Nelson were quite clear: He did so to preserve his marriage.

“I don’t view this as a decision that was either pro-women or opposed to women rights at all. In my view, this was a decision that followed the appropriate case law.”

Campaign supports Iowa justices targeted by out-of-state attack

An advocacy group has launched a radio campaign urging voters to retain three Iowa Supreme Court justices who supported the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Fair Courts for Us began airing ads on Oct. 15 in seven markets. The group says more markets will be added. The group was formed after gay rights opponents said in August that they would urge voters not to retain the justices who joined last year’s unanimous decision that legalized gay marriage in Iowa.

That group, Iowa for Freedom, launched its own automated phone calls to voters earlier this month. The group is bankrolled by the American Family Association, a far-right Mississippi-based group that believes Muslims should not serve in the military and that gays and lesbians should not hold public office. Campaign disclosure records show AFA’s political action arm, known as AFA Action Inc., has given about $100,000 to Iowa for Freedom

A total of nearly $320,000 has been spent on the campaign to oust the justices. Besides money spent by AFA, the National Organization for Marriage has spent $235,000 on television ads.

From WiG and wire reports