DES MOINES - Within weeks, gay couples will likely begin getting married in Iowa, and advocates on both sides of the issue claim the sight of same-sex unions in the nation's heartland will spur other states to take action.
What's less clear is whether that will lead more states to legalize such marriages or prompt more to amend their constitutions to outlaw the practice.
Supporters and opponents of gay marriage said Saturday they were energized by the Iowa Supreme Court's forceful and unanimous ruling Friday that upheld a 2007 district court decision that a state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman violates the constitutional rights of equal protection. The ruling opens the door for gays and lesbians to exchange vows in Iowa as soon as April 24.
From left, Erinn Brehio of Iowa City, University of Iowa junior Miranda Welch, of Stratford, and UI senior Cody Shafer, of Wapello, wave flags before the start of a rally at the Pentacrest in Iowa City celebrating Friday's Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding a lower court decision legalizing same sex marriage on Friday.
''It really adds to momentum in favor of the freedom to marry already under way but now going to a higher level,'' said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York City-based group working to win marriage equality nationwide.
''The voice of Iowa is the voice of common sense. The fact of a unanimous court is particularly significant.''
Wolfson said the Iowa court offered a clear, calm message that will resonate with other states.
Gay marriages expected to begin in Iowa April 24
By AMY LORENTZEN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DES MOINES - Gay marriage, seemingly the province of the nation's two coasts, is just weeks away from becoming a reality in the heartland and apparently it will be years before social conservatives have a chance to stop it.
The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday unanimously upheld a lower-court ruling that rejected a state law restricting marriage to a union between a man and woman. Now gays and lesbians may exchange vows as soon as April 24 following the landmark decision.
The county attorney who defended the law said he would not seek a rehearing. The only recourse for opponents appeared to be a constitutional amendment, which couldn't get on the ballot until 2012 at the earliest.
''I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways,'' said a dejected Bryan English, spokesman for the Iowa Family Policy Center, a conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage.
In the meantime, same-sex marriage opponents may try to enact residency requirements for marriage so that gays and lesbians from across the country could not travel to Iowa to wed.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, urged the Legislature to do so, saying he feared without residency requirements Iowa would ''become the gay marriage mecca.''
Only Massachusetts and Connecticut currently permit same-sex marriage. For six months last year, California's high court allowed gay marriage before voters banned it in November.
For gays and lesbians, meanwhile, the day was one of jubilation. The Vermont House of Representatives also passed a measure Friday that would allow same-sex couples to wed, on a 94-52 roll call vote, just short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised veto by Gov. Jim Douglas.
Gay marriage supporters hoped to convince a few Vermont legislators to switch when it comes to the override vote, which could be taken as soon as Tuesday.
Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the Iowa ruling shows the ''trend is going in only one direction.''
''The Iowa decision adds to the momentum of people thinking about what equality means and in the re-energizing of the advocates for same-sex couples being able to marry.''
The New York-based gay rights organization filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay and lesbian couples in Iowa. Some of their children also were named in the suit.
''There is certainly strong opposition with 29 states amending their constitution,'' Davidson said. ''But this case will provide additional momentum and we can see the day where same-sex marriage is allowed throughout the United States. People are coming to understand that this is inevitable.''
Rather than agreeing same-sex marriage is inevitable, opponents said the Iowa court decision would be a warning to other states that haven't enacted constitutional amendments.
''This (ruling) will catapult all of those states forward in the marriage amendment process,'' said Douglas Napier, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
''I think they're going to work hard to get it on their constitution before another renegade court goes out and creates new law,'' he said.
The court's decision makes Iowa the third state to allow same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut. For six months last year, California's high court allowed gay marriage before voters banned it in November. The Vermont Legislature is moving toward approving a same-sex marriage bill, but the state's governor has promised to veto the measure.
Danny Carroll, chairman of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage, said the Iowa decision has put the state in uncharted waters, and other states should take heed.
''Other states may very well look at that experience and conclude that likewise they need to be proactive and prepare their constitution to reflect the will of the people,'' he said.
Napier said his group's efforts aren't targeting same-sex couples, but promoting traditional families.
''It's sad to see them celebrate for something they think is giving them which will not deliver. You can call it whatever you want to. You can call it marriage. But they're not getting marriage. They're getting a counterfeit. A counterfeit will never satisfy in the same way,'' he said.