Monday, October 5, 2009

To what extent should Iowa accommodate religious liberty in a post-Varnum law on same-sex marriage?

Ian C. Bartrum, Same-Sex Marriage in the Heartland: The Case for Legislative Minimalism in Crafting Religious Exemptions, 108 Mich. L. Rev. First Impressions ___ (2009), posted 10/01/09 at Social Science Research Network

In Varnum v. Brien, 763 N.W.2d 862 (Ia. 2009), the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state's statutory ban on same-sex marriage violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. The Iowa state legislature may consider the examples of New England states when it develops legislation to implement the Court's ruling. Several legal scholars on religious liberty sent letters to state governors or legislators in New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York, recommending religious-liberty exemptions in marriage-equality legislation. Law professor John Culhane responded to these recommendations in a four-part series at this site.

In this article, constitutional scholar Ian Bartrum discusses the latest letter by the group of legal scholars to Iowa Governor Chet Culver. Bartrum questions the analogy between religious discrimination based on race and religious discrimination based on sexual orientation. He finds that the "same-sex marriage issue" - or rather the larger issue of prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians- resembles the "controversy over abortion." As a result of that controversy, laws exempt hospitals from the Civil Rights Act if their religious affiliation makes abortion objectionable. He favors "legislative minimalism" rather than a law on same-sex marriage whose exemptions anticipate every form of conflict between religious liberty and same-sex marriage:
Courts are well-equipped to craft and evaluate these kinds of balancing tests governing constitutional rights [such as the sincerity of religous objections], and thus the legislature should leave the question of private religious exemptions for later judicial interpretation.

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