An aftermath of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision to require the state to allow same-sex couples to marry is reported by the The Des Moines Register as a major story with potentially significant implications when in fact it is not that significant of an issue. At least it’s not significant based on the facts buried in the story. Here, a magistrate, not a judge as the headline inaccurately proclaims, announced that he will no longer perform marriage ceremonies partially in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Ultimately, the article gets all the details in the story, but before that, this magistrate’s decision is made to seem to be the next major legal contention that will flow from the court’s decision:
At least one Iowa magistrate has decided that he will no longer perform marriages, a response due in part to the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that allows same-sex couples to marry.
Third District Magistrate Francis Honrath of Larchwood on Wednesday said he will not be performing marriages.
“The Supreme Court ruling had something to do with it, but the truth is it’s not just same-sex marriage I had problems with,” said Honrath, a Creighton University law school graduate who is married and has seven children.
Sure this matters and is definitely news, but primarily at a symbolic level.
What jumped out to me about this story is that it mentions quite early that the magistrate is married with seven children. Is that really relevant to the story to the point that it should be in the third graph? I don’t want to say it’s completely inappropriate, because this story is ultimately about family issues and marriage, but what is the intent of placing this so close to the top? The obvious reason is to indicate that he is one serious Catholic. Six paragraphs later, the article states that the magistrate is a Catholic, but that’s about it when it comes to his religious views.
The article makes clear that performing marriages is completely discretionary. This magistrate is just declining to do a discretionary function of his job. Anybody seeking to have this particular magistrate perform their civil marriage will be disappointed. But as the article makes clear down near the end, you don’t even need a public official to perform the ceremony in order to accomplish the same ends of getting married:
County recorders do not have the option to refrain from marriage duties. Recorders, by law, have no discretion about performing their legal duties, including the issuance or denial of marriage licenses. The Iowa attorney general has advised recorders that failure to issue the licenses could result in proceedings to remove the person from office.
Marriages in Iowa may be solemnized by a judge, an ordained person or designated official of a person’s religious faith.
The Iowa high court opinion specifically differentiates between civil and religious marriages, allowing churches the freedom to accept or decline to conduct marriages for couples based upon their sex.
Judges may increasingly choose to avoid conducting weddings as a way to avoid possible political consequences when up for re-election, said Goldford, the political science professor. It means that all Iowans — including opposite-sex couples — may find it more difficult to find somebody to legally perform marriages for them outside of a church setting, he said.
One magistrate refusing to perform marriages does not indicate a coming flood of civil marriage ceremony abstentions. There are likely others out there that won’t perform marriage ceremonies any more, but as long as this decision is applied uniformly, there isn’t much anyone can do to object.
Whether or not people will find it more difficult to have someone perform a civil marriage is another question. Again, one magistrate out of the approximately 50 people that can perform marriages in that district will hardly be noticed. The article could have noted that if all of a sudden there were a dearth of judges or magistrates willing to perform marriages, the state could authorize other individuals to perform civil marriage ceremonies. Some jurisdictions authorize mayors, clerks and an number of civil authorities to perform marriages.
In general the story includes all the necessary details disclosing the face that this is not much of a story, but there are plenty of quotes in there that hype up this rather insignificant decision by a magistrate to stop performing civil marriage ceremonies.