Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court majority struck down state-level bans on same-sex marriages, at least two county clerks in Kentucky have refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples, prompting a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky on behalf of four couples. One of the county clerks has decided to stop issuing marriage licenses to anyone in her county so that she can't be forced to perform that service for LGBT citizens. How embarrassing. You want nothing to do with same-sex marriages? Go work for a church that doesn't recognize them.
I'm so proud that to my knowledge, no county recorder in Iowa ever used his or her religious convictions as an excuse for not doing a secular job in a professional way.
Not for lack of trying by some social conservative activists, egged on by certain Iowa Republican lawmakers. Follow me after the jump for a walk down memory lane and a list of Iowa counties where LGBT couples have exercised their right to marry since 2009.
After the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously struck down the key portion of our state's Defense of Marriage Act on April 3, 2009, many Iowa Republican politicians and activists condemned the ruling. Some of them had trouble accepting the reality of what had occurred, failing to understand the judiciary's role in interpreting laws.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller made clear immediately that once the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling took effect, "county recorders/registrars must issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite sex couples." However, some social conservatives called on county recorders to defy the ruling. Then State Senator Merlin Bartz tried unsuccessfully to pass an amendment giving recorders a license to discriminate. He claimed that one or more county officials were ready to resign over the principle. He even used his Iowa Senate office to promulgate the Iowa Family Policy Center's petition calling on recorders "to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples on April 27th, 2009, and every day after, until such conflict between the Supreme Court's opinion and the law is address [sic] by a VOTE OF THE PEOPLE OF IOWA."
I admit to being worried at the time that a handful of county recorders might try to be a hero to the religious right.
My fears were unfounded. I never heard of a single county recorder refusing to issue a marriage license to any couple who applied for one in Iowa.
Data from the Iowa Department of Public Health indicate that same-sex marriages have occurred in at least 56 of Iowa's 99 counties since 2009. I enclose the full list in alphabetical order at the end of this post.
The real number of Iowa counties where recorders have issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples is probably higher. To comply with confidentiality, the IDPH "masks" data from counties in which five or fewer same-sex marriages occurred in a given year. Also, data for some marriages do not indicate whether the couple was same-gender or opposite-gender. Finally, the IDPH keeps track of legal marriages; some couples may have received a license but not followed through with the wedding.
Maps showing the same-gender marriage rate by Iowa county appear in the annual vital statistics reports that you can download here. The IDPH provided Bleeding Heartland with a table showing same-sex marriage data in each county for 2014 (for which vital statistics are not yet posted online). Again, some counties where five or fewer LGBT couples got married in a given year cannot be identified on those maps or tables.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk whose actions led to the ACLU lawsuit, has said her "deep religious convictions" prevent her from doing her job, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed LGBT couples to marry.
I doubt she can honestly claim never to have issued licenses to heterosexual couples whose marriages violated her religious beliefs. Ms. Davis never served a couple whose relationship began as an adulterous affair? Or a couple who started dating when the woman was below the age of consent? Or someone who was marrying for money, not love? Or a non-monogamous couple planning to have an "open marriage"?
Public officials are human beings who need not approve of everyone's relationship. But regardless of our private opinions and judgments, all civil marriages are equally valid under the law.
Any county official who can't do the job should resign.
Iowa counties where same-sex marriages have occurred since April 2009, according to data provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health: