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Ten years of marriage equality and 150 years of women lawyers: Important Iowa anniversaries in 2019

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The Varnum v. Brien plaintiffs in 2009. — courtesy of the BarbouRoskes

That Iowa has been a leader in establishing basic rights, which other Americans later take for granted, almost always comes as a surprise to non-Iowans. But this year marked major anniversaries for at least two instances in which Iowa showed that kind of leadership.

The 10th anniversary of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v. Brien, which established marriage equality in the state and paved the way for its national recognition, was widely celebrated in April. Little Village published a history of how a western Iowa divorce case helped lead the justices of the Iowa Supreme Court to their landmark decision. LV’s Emma McClatchey also interviewed couples involved in the case, including Kate and Trish Varnum.

And in March, LV examined a less well-known legal landmark: the 150th anniversary of Iowan Arabella Mansfield being admitted to the bar. Mansfield was the first woman in the United States accredited to practice law. Christine Ralston profiled Mansfield and four more trailblazing Iowa women lawyers.

Photo by Karen Desuyo

How a divorce helped kick-start marriage equality in Iowa

The path to marriage equality in Iowa started with a divorce.

Kimberly Brown and Jennifer Perez traveled from their home in western Iowa to Vermont in 2002 to be joined in a civil union, a substitute for traditional civic marriages Vermont created for same-sex couples in 2000. But during the following year, Brown and Perez decided to go their separate ways. Like any couple in their situation, they hired attorneys.

A petition to dissolve the civil union was included in a group of divorce petitions presented to Woodbury County District Judge Jeffrey Neary in November 2003. Neary realized any decision he made would be controversial. But it was an amicable split, and Neary felt bound by judicial comity to respect the laws of another state as long as they didn’t contradict the laws of Iowa. Continue reading…

Kate (blue shirt) and Trish Varnum. — photo courtesy of the Varnums

A conversation with Kate and Trish Varnum, 10 years after Varnum v. Brien

Cedar Rapids couple Kate and Trish Varnum celebrate their 18th, 15th and 10th anniversaries this year: they’ve been together since 2001, had a religious marriage ceremony in 2004 and were legally married in 2009, after a landmark Iowa Supreme Court case that bore their name.

Since the April 3, 2009 ruling in Varnum v. Brien, the case spearheaded by Lambda Legal that legalized same-sex marriage in the state of Iowa, the Varnums adopted their son, Alex, now 7 years old. Both mothers went back to school to earn their degrees, and are employed by Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids.

Little Village caught up with Kate and Trish on the eve of Varnum v. Brien’s own 10th anniversary. It was the Varnums’ first interview in years, and the couple discussed their relationship, how it feels to have a famous name and the issues on their minds now. They also shared a message for their fellow plaintiffs. Continue reading…

Jen and Dawn BarbouRoske on their 28th anniversary trip to Italy. — courtesy of the BarbouRoskes

The BarbouRoskes, plaintiffs in Varnum v. Brien, reflect on Iowa’s fight for marriage equality

The day the Iowa Supreme Court announced they’d made a decision in Varnum v. Brien, the landmark case that would determine whether to legalize same-sex marriage in Iowa, Dawn and Jennifer BarbouRoskes’ two young daughters had covered their faces in temporary tattoos.

“Jen’s at work and I’m scrubbing their faces,” Dawn recalled. “Bre had fallen at school.”

“And had a massive lump on her forehead,” Jen said. (The women have a tendency to finish each other’s sentences.) “We were told all this national media is going to be there tomorrow. That’s exactly how our life goes.” Continue reading…

Arabella Mansfield, the first woman in the United States to be admitted to the bar. — State Historical Society of Iowa

‘The Iowa Lawyer’: Five female attorneys from Iowa who made history

Arabella Mansfield was born Belle Aurelia Babb just outside of Burlington, Iowa in 1846. By the age of 23, Mansfield would become the nation’s first woman to be admitted to practice law, clearing a path for generations of women — including four of Iowa’s foremost orators, teachers, attorneys and civil rights activists — to take up the practice in the 150 years since. Continue reading…


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