Judges ousted after legalizing gay marriage in Iowa feel proud of their independence



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DES MOINES, Iowa — Legalizing gay marriage in Iowa carried a heavy cost for three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court who were booted off the bench in a subsequent judicial retention election after heavy spending to defeat them by groups opposing gay marriage.

But for same-sex couples the judges' unanimous decision in 2009 was life-changing, allowing thousands to marry after the state became the third in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage.

Here are some answers to questions that look at Iowa's path to gay marriage and how it fits into the context of Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

HOW DO THE IOWA JUSTICES REMOVED FROM THE BENCH FEEL TODAY?

Then Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, as well as justices Michael Streit and David Baker were removed from the bench in a judicial retention vote in 2010. Organizations opposing gay marriage spent a million dollars on advertising asking voters to oust them. The three continue to practice law and were awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2012 "for their demonstrated political courage and judicial independence..."

Streit said Friday that it's important to remember nobody's forcing anybody to get married or forcing churches to perform gay marriages. "The dire consequences that come from these types of decisions have not come to fruition," he said. Iowa's decision six years ago drew national attention because it was unanimous in a Midwest state with a respected judiciary and a state not considered extremely liberal. "I think it caused people to pause and take a serious look at this legal issue and as a result all of this has evolved until the ruling came today. I'm proud of what we did and I'm happy with what the U.S. Supreme Court did today."

Baker said: "All I can say is that it shows the importance of an independent judiciary who is committed to upholding our Constitution." He said with the change in public opinion — 37 states have declared same-sex marriage legal — the court has ratified what was eventually going to happen anyway. Ternus did not return messages.

HOW TO LEGAL SCHOLARS VIEW IOWAS ROLE?

Drake University constitutional law professor Mark Kende said the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling was a catalyst for the nation "and opened the door to the idea that this could be mainstream America." The national high court's opinion should serve as vindication for the Iowa justices and it highlights that independent judges are supposed to decide the law "regardless of the political consequences."

WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN IOWA SINCE GAY MARRIAGE WAS LEGALIZED?

Same-sex couples began applying for marriage licenses and marrying immediately. Through 2014 Iowa has recorded 11,137 same-sex marriages, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, which maintains state vital records including births, deaths and marriages. The total may be higher because not all married couples record their gender on the license applications.

WHAT ARE GAY MARRIAGE OPPONENTS SAYING?

Christian conservative Bob Vander Plaats, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, said the Constitution "was trampled on by activist judges who went way outside of their scope of jurisdiction and defied the laws of nature and nature's God and it's going to have severe ripple effects throughout this country." He said it's a matter of time before "we right the ship."

The Catholic bishops of Iowa said they were saddened by the ruling but they will "continue to lead people to live under the Gospel, which requires us to be humble and loving to all others, regardless."

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