Iowa judge amends lesbian divorce order
January 01 2004 1:00 AM ET
A judge who granted a divorce to a lesbian couple in Woodbury County, Iowa, has changed his ruling, declaring instead that the couple's "civil union" was terminated. District judge Jeffrey Neary granted a divorce to Kimberly Jean Brown and Jennifer Sue Perez on November 14. That prompted a conservative family advocacy group to file an appeal with the Iowa supreme court, claiming that Neary had overstepped his authority. Iowa law does not recognize the marriage of gay or lesbian couples.
The Iowa Liberty and Justice Center, an offshoot of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said Iowa law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The group said a divorce can't be granted to a union not recognized in Iowa. On December 24, Neary amended his ruling to terminate the couple's "civil union." The two Sioux City women went to Vermont in March 2002 to take advantage of that
state's civil union law. They returned to Sioux City to live.
Timm Reid, a lawyer for the Iowa Liberty and Justice Center, said the group was encouraged to see Neary respond to its concerns but that the decision still doesn't abide by state law. "What the judge tried to do was enter through the back door," Reid said. "The judge is still trying to recognize something that Iowa law does not." The amended decree only changes the language describing the women's relationship, from a marriage to a civil union, neither of which exists in Iowa, said Chuck Hurley, Iowa Family Policy Center president. "It's like a doctor saying you're cured of cancer when you never had cancer," Hurley said. Hurley said the state supreme court still needs to rule on the case. "The supreme court still needs to inform Judge Neary that there is no such thing as a civil union in Iowa law," Hurley said.
Neary did not immediately respond to a telephone message left on Tuesday, but he earlier told the LeMars Daily Sentinel that he was acting only to resolve a legal issue between two people. "I'm not out here crusading for anything or anybody," Neary said. "I'm dealing with the legal problem. I don't make decisions about social agendas or morality issues." If the supreme court overturns his ruling, it will clarify the issue for everyone, Neary told the newspaper. "If the supreme court says I'm right and says we have to give full faith and credit to this Vermont issue, that too sets precedent," he said. "A ruling from the Iowa supreme court would establish how we're going to deal with it in