In 2009, by a unanimous 7-0 ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the existing state ban on same-sex marriage violated the equal protection cause of the state Constitution. Thousands of gay couples, including many from neighboring states, have married there since. Tuesday was the first chance that gay marriage opponents have had to express how they feel about it.
In Iowa, judges who come up for election do not face an opponent, but unless a majority of the voters vote to retain the judges, they lose their seat. Since this “merit/retention” system was adopted in Iowa in 1962, no Iowa Supreme Court justices had ever lost their seat in such a “retention” election. On Tuesday, three of the seven justices were on the ballot, including the chief justice. The election was clearly all about the marriage issue. About 46 percent of Iowa voters voted to retain the three, so they will all lose their seats at the end of the year. The governor will appoint replacements.
Outside anti-gay-marriage groups spent an estimated $1 million encouraging the dumping of the three justices. The justices chose not to raise any money or campaign, but other groups campaigned on their behalf, mostly on the argument that the politicization of judicial elections is a bad thing and that it would be especially dangerous to set the precedent of removing judges for one unpopular decision.
To the victors, it was a case of standing up for democracy and for allowing the people of the state to hold ultimate control over state laws.
“It was a victory for freedom, a victory for liberty,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the former Republican gubernatorial candidate and Sioux City businessman who started the push to oust the justices. “If we allow courts to make our law, to amend our law and amend our Constitution, you have tyranny. The people of Iowa were very upset that they never had their voice heard on this issue.”