04.23.2009 8:00am EDT
(Des Moines, Iowa) The Iowa Department of Public Health, which registers marriages in the state, has begun sending county clerks new gender neutral marriage license application forms.
Same-sex couples can begin issuing the forms on Monday, the date imposed by the Iowa Supreme Court when it struck down the state ban on gay marriage on April 3.
The old forms had spaces for the “Groom” and “Bride” to fill in. The new forms refer only to “Party A” and Party B”.
But the forms will also provide an option for traditional opposite-sex couples – allowing them to tick off a box identifying them as bride and groom.
Last week the Department of Public Health issued a directive to clerks reminding them that under the court ruling they are obligated to “issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite gender applicants.”
The Attorney General’s office also said it would monitor compliance.
On April 3 in a unanimous ruling the Iowa Supreme Court said that the state law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional – upholding a lower court ruling.
“The Iowa statute limiting civil marriage to a union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution,” the justices said in the 69 page ruling.
The court also discounted civil unions as an alternative to marriage.
“A new distinction based on sexual orientation would be equally suspect and difficult to square with the fundamental principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution,” the ruling said.
Attempts by Republicans to advance a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would bar same-sex marriage have failed in the Legislature.
Gay marriage opponents are now counting on a Constitutional Convention top overturn the ruling.
Once every decade Iowa voters can decide whether to hold a convention. The question is scheduled to go on the ballot in November 2010 and needs only a simple majority.
Conservatives believe that if a Constitutional Convention is approved they can convince delegates to vote for an amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
If voters approve holding a convention, and if enough delegates can be convinced to amend the constitution the question could be put to voters in a special election, possibly in 2011.