Official: Iowa clerks must obey marriage ruling

Posted on 20 Apr 2009 at 2:17pm
By Associated Press

Memo comes after reports some would refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples because of religious beliefs

DES MOINES, Iowa — A state official has sent notices to Iowa’s 99 county recorders telling them they must comply with a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalizes gay marriage.

The note, sent to recorders Thursday, April 16 by Victoria Hutton of the Iowa Department of Public Health, comes after reports of discontent among some county recorders who have contemplated refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

"All county recorders in the state of Iowa are required to comply with the Varnum decision and to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite gender applicants," the note said.

The decision takes effect April 27 and same-sex couples can begin applying for marriage licenses that day.

Under state law, county recorders risk being fired if they don’t comply with the ruling.

Wayne County Recorder Angela Horton said the decision puts some recorders in a "very, very difficult position."

"But sometimes you have to put aside your personal beliefs, your religious beliefs, when you’re doing a job you’ve sworn under oath to provide," she said.

Republican state senators tried to give recorders an out if their religion is opposed to gay marriage.

Sen. David Hartsuch, R-Bettendorf, said the proposal would be similar to a "conscience clause" in the medical field that allows doctors to opt out of performing abortion. He pointed out that the Supreme Court ruling says "religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected."

However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal scorned the proposal as "blatantly unconstitutional." He noted that the court also said in its ruling that county recorders must issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

"A statute that says they don’t have to is nonsense," said Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

In e-mails obtained by The Des Moines Register, recorders voiced their personal struggles with the Supreme Court decision.

Warren County Recorder Polly Glascock said in an e-mail to colleagues that the clerk of Rep. Kent Sorenson, R-Indianola, called her to ask how she’d handle the gay-marriage issue.

"She inquired as to why I thought I had to do that — it’s not a law, it’s an opinion," wrote Glascock, who answered that she would be required to process the applications.

Sorenson, who is opposed to gay marriage, told The Register he didn’t ask his assistant to make the call.

"I’m not calling for anarchy," he said. "I want to make it clear that I’m not calling, pressuring her not to do her job. She has to do her job. That’s up to her, the oath she took and what she feels she has to do."

In an e-mail to colleagues, Johnson County Recorder Kim Painter said she hopes none of her colleagues "go rogue."

She said people who want to turn the 27th into a political stunt are trying to find a recorder "willing to perpetrate an act of civil disobedience in a county where the sheriff won’t arrest, and the attorney won’t prosecute."

"Supreme Courts always have the final word as to the constitutionality of laws passed by the legislature except in countries like Syria," she wrote. "Personally, I don’t want to live in Syria, so I am abiding by the system of governance and laws in America."

Hutton, with the health department, said a county recorder had claimed that the Iowa Supreme Court decision on gay marriage applies only in Polk County, not statewide.

"To the contrary," Hutton wrote in her e-mail to county recorders, "the Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum does change state law."

Information from: The Des Moines Register, www.desmoinesregister.com

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