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Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady, author of the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa, has died


Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady — official photo

Mark Cady, chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, died on Friday. The death of the 66-year-old justice was announced by his family on Friday night.

“Tonight, the state lost a great man, husband, father, grandfather, and jurist. Chief Justice Mark Cady passed away unexpectedly this evening from a heart attack,” the family said in a written statement.

Cady was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1998, and was elected chief justice by his fellow justices in 2011.

Cady was a nationally respected judge — earlier this year, he was selected by peers around the country to be both president of the Conference of Chief Justices and chair of the National Center for State Courts board of directors — but was best known for penning the court’s opinion in Varnum v. Brien, the 2009 case that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

Writing for the court, Cady explained that the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution meant that same-sex couple were entitled to the same rights as other Iowans.

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage — religious or otherwise — by giving respect to our constitutional principles.

These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views.

A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.

The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

“Cady’s 69-page ruling reads much like a treatise on constitutional history and interpretation aimed at explaining the decision’s rationale for lay readers who may disagree with the result,” Rox Laird, a leading reporter on Iowa’s courts, wrote at Courthouse News.

Kate Varnum, the lead plaintiff in the historic case, told the Gazette on Saturday that Cady was “the best of what Iowa has to offer — very humble, very generous and wanting to treat people fairly.” The two met each other for the first time at a social event in 2017.

“He was a dedicated jurist who was liked and respected for his strong work ethic and fairness,” former Iowa governor Terry Branstad said in a written statement following the announcement of Cady’s death. Like many Iowa conservatives, Branstad frequently disapproved of Cady’s opinions — especially in the Varnum case — but as governor, Branstad appointed Cady to all the judicial positions he held.

Cady was practicing law in Fort Dodge when Branstad appointed him as a district associate judge in 1983 and he became a district judge three years later. Cady was appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 1994, and was elected chief judge of the appeals court in 1997.

Born in South Dakota, Cady attended Drake University in Des Moines, where he received his undergraduate degree before attending the university’s law school.

Cady is survived by his wife, Becky, their two children and four grandchildren.

There will be a public memorial service for Mark Cady at the Drake University Knapp Center on Wednesday, beginning at 10 a.m


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