Gay Divorce Judge Denies Wanting to Set Precedent

The district court judge who signed a divorce decree for two women said he was not out to establish a precedent with the case but only to resolve a legal issue for two people who needed it.

"I'm not out here crusading for anything or anybody. I'm dealing with the legal problem," Judge Jeffrey Neary (search) told the Daily Sentinel in Le Mars. "I don't make decisions about social agendas or morality issues; it just wouldn't be fair to the multitude of people I serve."

The two Sioux City women -- Kimberly J. Brown, 31, and Jennifer S. Perez, 26 -- went to Vermont in Marodbury County District Court referred to the union as a marriage which triggered criticism from lawmakers who quickly pointed out that Iowa law does not recognize same-sex marriages (search). Many feared Neary's ruling could set a precedent of establishing a court's recognition of same-sex unions.

Conservative family advocacy group The Iowa Liberty and Justice Center (search) filed an appeal Dec. 15 to the Iowa Supreme Court. The group asked the court to overturn Neary's decree granting the divorce.

"Judges are appointed to rule according to the law, not create it," said Timm Ried, the lead attorney for the group who filed the appeal.

The group, an offshoot of the Iowa Family Policy Center, contends that Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act (search) defines a marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The group says a divorce cannot be granted to a union not recognized in the state.

Neary said the courts need to reconcile what he sees as a conflict between the U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit provision which says one state will recognize the laws of other states and Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act which many say prohibits recognition of same sex unions.

"Somebody, somewhere has to clarify the issue. We have to stop talking about it and do something about it," he said. "Right now, the law doesn't talk about it practically speaking. It's a twofold problem; we need some clarity from the court and the legislature has to deal with this as well. We'll have to make decisions right or wrong. The more clarity we have, the better off we'll be," he said.

He said judges will be forced to deal with those types of relationships and need to know how to deal with them.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Huge amounts of issues are attached to it that need to be clarified."

Neary said he's been called the anti-Christ by strangers since he approved the divorce and many people he knows have asked him to explain the issue.

"When you see this story, you either see a social issue or a legal problem. I'm dealing with the legal problem," he said.

Neary said he understands the appeal and agrees the group has a legitimate challenge.

"If the Supreme Court says I was wrong, that will clarify it for all of us judges. If the Supreme Court says I'm right and says we have to give full faith and credit to this Vermont issue, that, too, sets precedent. A ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court would establish how we're going to deal with it in the future."