Conservative voters and family groups were able to secure a victory Tuesday with the removal of three State Supreme Court justices who legalized gay marriage.
Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit were up for a retention vote and needed more "yes" votes than "no" votes. More Iowans chose to unseat them from the judicial bench.
The decision was made after months of rallying and mobilizing by such groups as Iowa For Freedom, the Iowa Family Policy Center, and the National Organization for Marriage – all of whom were unhappy with the court's vote in April 2009 to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. The 1998 act defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Celebrating the victory, NOM president Brian Brown stated, "First and foremost, we wanted to defeat the judges in Iowa who had usurped the will of the people and imposed gay marriage in that state. The three judges were overwhelmingly rejected, sending a powerful message to any judge who thinks they can impose gay marriage by judicial fiat against the wishes of the people."
NOM was the largest donor to the effort to defeat the Iowa court justices, spending roughly $600,000 to the campaign. It joined other conservative groups on the "Judge Bus," which made stops at 45 of Iowa's 99 counties last week, urging voters to replace the "activist judges."
"Support Iowa Families, Not Activist Judges," they rallied.
Since the 7-0 ruling last April, family groups have argued that the Iowa Supreme Court had overstepped its judicial authority by striking down marriage laws.
"The court legislated from the bench … they governed from the bench … and, they even attempted to amend our constitution from the bench as they declared Iowa a 'Same Sex' marriage state," said Iowa For Freedom. "This is not their role. The Legislature makes the law. The Governor executes the law. And, only 'we the people' can amend our constitution."
"If the Iowa Supreme Court will do this to marriage, every one of our freedoms, including gun rights and private property, is in danger of being usurped by activist judges who are unelected officials."
The groups have tried to push for a ballot initiative on the issue of marriage.
A poll released by the Des Moines Register last September showed that Iowans were almost evenly divided on same-sex marriage. Forty-one percent said they would vote for a ban on gay marriage while 40 percent said they would favor continuing gay marriage. At the same time, 35 percent of Iowans said they are strongly opposed to gay and lesbian couples marrying and only 18 percent said they are strongly in support of it.
The three ousted judges released a statement Wednesday, thanking supporters who worked "tirelessly" to "defend Iowa's high-caliber court system against an unprecedented attack funded by out-of-state special interest groups.
"Iowa's merit selection system helps ensure that our judges base their decisions on the law and the Constitution and nothing else. Ultimately, however, the preservation of our fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges; it will require the fervent and steadfast support of the people."
While the removal of the judges doesn't impact the same-sex marriage decision made by the state high court, proponents of traditional marriage say Tuesday's vote sends a clear message to judges across the country.