For some reason people who would never write about chemistry or engineering feel comfortable explaining legal opinions. But the state requires law school and bar admission to practice law, so maybe there’s a legal expertise you can’t acquire by your religion or your worldview? Just a thought.
Nonetheless attempting to analyze a recent decision in Iowa’s Polk County District Court, one politico-evangelical assessment tells us “Now, with a horribly skewed worldview at work, Judge Ovrom continued to rewrite the laws of Iowa and, by extension, nature.” That’s quite an accusation. But the decision tells us nothing about Judge Ovrom’s worldview, she made no comments on nature, and the only rewriting is the author’s rewriting of Judge Ovrom’s decision.
The case arose because a married lesbian who gave birth to a daughter by anonymous in-vitro fertilization had a same-sex spouse ask to be put on the daughter’s birth certificate. Yes, take a couple seconds to read that again. Got it? Now, in response to that request the Iowa Department of Public Health took the entirely understandable position that, since the IDPH is mandated to enter the “husband’s” name unless “paternity” is otherwise established, they should refuse the request. The spouse then took the legally reasonable position that, since Iowa allows gay marriage and birth certificates show the spouses of children born in wedlock, her name should be on the certificate. The alternative of adopting the child would be a costly process that would create practical parenting problems in the interim.
So we had a problem that needed to be solved by the courts. Enter Eliza Ovrom, a cordial and capable Polk County District Court Judge. Her duty was not to be ideological or to take sides in culture wars, but to apply existing law with sound legal reasoning and thereby resolve the dilemma of the parties. Applicable precedent was the case of Varnum v. Brien which found a right to gay marriage in Iowa. In Judge Ovrom’s decision (Gartner vs. Iowa Dep’t of Public Health) she explains that a husband is put on a birth certificate even if he’s not the biological father of a child born during the marriage; she found roots for that practice in the common law of England. She notes that, if the child is put on the birth certificate,“She will be legally entitled to financial support from both parents, rather than one, to inherit from both parents, and to have two adults who will be able to act for her in important matters such as medical care and schooling.” Then, lest anyone think Judge Ovrom was being an activist judge, she declined to find a constitutional violation, making the more limited ruling that there was a statutory violation. So the decision was well-reasoned and restrained.
The reaction to this case was in part due to the prior decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that found a constitutional right to gay marriage. It was well within the right of Iowans to vote out three Supreme Court Justices for their judicial philosophy in that decision. But it’s another thing altogether to adopt the motto “all’s fair in love and culture war” and do this kind of shoddy analysis just as long as it’s shoddy analysis against a judge. Also, a culture war isn’t a license for knee-jerk condemnation of someone every time the word “gay” is associated with “rights.” If politico-evangelicals are to target the courts – and they will – do it with understanding and spare us the demagoguery. Please and thank you.