Lesbian divorce goes to Iowa supreme court
December 17 2003 12:00 AM ET
A conservative advocacy group filed an appeal Monday with the Iowa supreme court seeking to overturn a district court judge's divorce decree for a lesbian couple. The Iowa Liberty and Justice Center claims that Judge Jeffrey Neary overstepped his authority in approving the divorce. "Judges are appointed to rule according to the law, not create it," said Timm Reid, the lead attorney for the Liberty and Justice Center. "That's essentially what Judge Neary did when he chose to recognize and end a [same-sex marriage] that Iowa doesn't recognize in the first place." The group, an offshoot of the Iowa Family Policy Center, contends that Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The group says a divorce cannot be granted to a union not recognized in Iowa.
The two Sioux City women--Kimberly J. Brown, 31, and Jennifer S. Perez, 26--were joined in a civil union in Vermont in March 2002 and then returned to Sioux City to live. Their divorce was granted November 14 in Woodbury County district court. Also listed as plaintiffs in the appeal are six state legislators, including Sen. Nancy Boettger (R-Harlan) and Rep. Danny Carroll (R-Grinnell). U.S. representative Steve King, a Republican, also joined the appeal along with Matthew Wentz, pastor of the Church of Christ in LeMars. The lawmakers are involved because they represented the people of Iowa when the state passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1997. "They knew having such a law on the books was best for Iowa's kids, and legislators continue to stand by that belief," said Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center.
The petition maintains there is no statutory authority in Iowa to dissolve a civil union and that in granting a divorce, the judge "usurped lawmaking powers designated to the legislature by redefining 'marriage' as applied to the dissolution of marriage laws enacted in the state of Iowa." Carroll said he was surprised by Neary's decision and believes the case was intended to test Iowa's law against same-sex marriages. "If the decision is let stand, then there would be those who argue that the state by default has recognized same-sex marriages, which is contrary to state statute," Carroll said. The petition asks the court to annul the judge's decision. It said the "controversy is of such public magnitude and importance" that it requires the attention of the supreme court "to avoid injustice, which will result unless such relief is granted."