Judge amends order in lesbian divorce case
Conservatives still not satisfied
Published Thursday, 08-Jan-2004 in issue 837
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A judge who granted a divorce to a lesbian couple in Woodbury County has changed his ruling, declaring instead that the couple’s “civil union” was terminated.
District Judge Jeffrey Neary granted a divorce to Kimberly Jean Brown and Jennifer Sue Perez on Nov. 14. That prompted a conservative family advocacy group to file an appeal with the Iowa Supreme Court, claiming Neary had overstepped his authority. Iowa law does not recognize the marriage of gay and lesbian couples.
The Iowa Liberty and Justice Center, an offshoot of the Iowa Family Policy Center, said Iowa law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The group said a divorce can’t be granted to a union not recognized in Iowa.
On Dec. 24, Neary amended his ruling to terminate the couple’s “civil union.” The two Sioux City women went to Vermont in March 2002 to take advantage of that state’s civil union laws. They returned to Sioux City to live.
Timm Reid, a lawyer for the Iowa Liberty and Justice Center, said the group was encouraged to see Neary respond to its concerns, but that the decision still didn’t abide by state law.
“What the judge tried to do was enter through the back door...” Reid said. “The judge is still trying to recognize something that Iowa law does not.”
The amended decree only changes the language describing the women’s relationship from a marriage to a “civil union,” neither of which exists in Iowa, said Chuck Hurley, Iowa Family Policy Center president.
“It’s like a doctor saying you’re cured of cancer when you never had cancer,” Hurley said.
Hurley said the state Supreme Court still needs to rule on the case.
“The Supreme Court still needs to inform Judge Neary that there is no such thing as a civil union in Iowa law,” Hurley said.
A telephone message left for Neary wasn’t immediately returned, but he earlier told the Le Mars Daily Sentinel that he was acting only to resolve a legal issue between two people.
“I’m not out here crusading for anything or anybody,” Neary said. “I’m dealing with the legal problem. I don’t make decisions about social agendas or morality issues.”
If the Supreme Court overturns his ruling, it will clarify the issue for everyone, Neary told the Le Mars newspaper.
“If the Supreme Court says I’m right and says we have to give full faith and credit to this Vermont issue, that, too, sets precedent,” he said. “A ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court would establish how we’re going to deal with it in the future.”