When the California Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision of the Northern District Court of California that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, I was not as vocal in celebration as some of my classmates who were natives of California. I had just come from Iowa, so I was already used to gay marriage being legal (I had a similar experience with the fierce debate surrounding the failed attempt to eliminate California’s death penalty). By the metrics of most of my friends, Iowa was ahead of California in a number of important respects – and I made sure to constantly remind them of this fact.
My enthusiasm in Iowa’s progress was dampened, however, by the tendency of the state to take steps backward as soon as it had moved forward. The legalization of gay marriage was met with the expulsion of three of Iowa’s Supreme Court Justices during their retention election. But in an action that went beyond popular backlash, the Iowa Supreme Court proceeded to tarnish its own reputation in the case of Nelson v. James H. Knight, DDS, P.C.
In Nelson, the Iowa Supreme Court held that it is not a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act to fire an employee because the employer feels personally attracted to the employee. Even if the employee would not be fired but for his or her gender, there is a difference between sex-based termination and termination based on a personal attraction. While I am no expert on the Iowa Civil Rights Act, the decision raised some red flags to me because it seemed to put employees’ security at the whim of employers’ sexual desires. Furthermore, employers could claim a personal attraction as a false justification for firing employees on the basis of sex and it is not clear how the employee would be able to disprove the claim of attraction.
This decision made national news and was met with wide ridicule, even all the way out here at UCLA Law. My Iowan ancestry, once my claim to fame, became a source of shame. It is because of all of this that I am happy to see that the court has agreed to rehear the case. I hope that the Iowa Supreme Court decides the case differently so that I can once again belittle my Californian friends by asserting Iowa’s jurisprudential superiority.