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Attorney General: County officials must support ‘rule of law’
County recorders do not have the authority to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
Miller was responding to a petition drive being pushed by Republican state Sen. Merlin Bartz and the Iowa Family Policy Center that is trying to convince county recorders to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses in defiance of a recent Supreme Court ruling.
“We expect duly-elected county recorders to comply with the Iowa Constitution as interpreted unanimously by the Iowa Supreme Court, the highest court in Iowa,” Miller said in a statement to the Iowa Independent. “Our country lives by and thrives by the rule of law, and the rule of law means we all follow the law as interpreted by our courts — not by ourselves. We don’t each get to decide what the law is; that would lead to chaos. We must live by and follow what the courts decide.”
Bartz is asking citizens to deliver signed petitions to Iowa’s 99 county recorders on Monday, the day the Supreme Court’s verdict goes into effect and same-sex couples can legally obtain marriage licenses. Any county recorder that doesn’t abide by the Court’s ruling would be in violation of the law and face removal from office.
“Recorders do not have discretion or power to ignore the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling,” Miller said, adding: “If necessary, we will explore legal actions to enforce and implement the Court’s ruling, working with the Iowa Department of Public Health and county attorneys.”
For several days his office has advised county recorders around the state that they are required to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision, Miller said, which means they must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as they have in the past to opposite-sex couples.
Last week, Bartz attempted to insert language into a bill that would have allowed county recorders to refuse to issue a marriage license as a “matter of conscience” without fear of prosecution. The language was ruled out of order. Later, a clerk to Republican state Rep. Kent Sorenson was found to be contacting county recorders asking them why they were willing to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling, since “it’s not a law, it’s an opinion.”
But the Court’s ruling concluded that language “limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the [state] statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage.”
County recorders do not have the authority to ignore the Court’s ruling, Miller said.