Marriage Equality USA

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Lawsuits - Resolved

Varnum v. Brien

Case #: 763 N.W.2d 862
Date Filed: December 2005
Ruling Date: 3 April 2009


  • Six same-sex couples went to the Office of the Polk County Recorder in Des Moines, Iowa, at various times between November 2005 and January 2006 in an attempt to apply for marriage licenses. Each couple's application was denied because in each case the couple was composed of two people of the same sex, and Iowa law only permitted couples composed of one man and one woman to marry.
  • Lambda Legal filed suit for the couples in Polk County District Court, against Timothy Brien, Polk County Recorder, for refusing to grant them marriage licenses arguing that this law violated certain rights guaranteed by the Iowa constitution.
  • In 2007, the District Judge Robert Hanson granted summary judgment in favor of the couples.
  • Judge Hanson issued a stay of his ruling on 31 August 2007, in anticipation of an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court (filed in March 2008).
  • The final ruling, in April 2009, was a unanimous decision of the Iowa Supreme Court that held the state's limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. It established same-sex marriage in Iowa.
  • In 2010 Iowa voters defeated the retention of three of the judges responsible for the decision, but in 2012 they retained the one judge who participated in the decision and whose term would otherwise have ended, following various polls showing that a majority of Iowans support marriage equality.

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