A long-awaited decision on gay marriage is expected to be handed down Friday morning by the Iowa Supreme Court.

At stake is whether Iowa's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a measure that has restricted marriage to heterosexual partners for the last ten years, is unconstitutional.

The court heard oral arguments in Varnum v. Brien in December.

The case is similar to a May California Supreme Court ruling that found a 2000 voter-approved gay marriage ban unconstitutional. About 18,000 gay and lesbian couples married in California between June and November before Proposition 8 – the constitutional amendment that once again banned gay marriage in the state – was approved by a slim majority of voters. The California court is expected to rule on the validity of Proposition 8 before June.

Whether events in California – thousands of gay activists and allies began protesting passage of Proposition 8 the day after Election Day – will influence the outcome in Iowa remains to be seen.

In Iowa, one couple married on August 31, 2007 during a brief window when gay marriage was legal.

Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, a pair of Iowa State University undergraduates, managed to secure documents and find a judge to marry them before the Iowa District Court ruling that found the gay marriage ban unconstitutional was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

It was a rollercoaster day of jubilation followed by disappointment for dozens of gay and lesbian couples who had applied for marriage licenses on the same day but were unable to move fast enough to beat the state Supreme Court's stay on the lower court's decision.

If Iowa legalizes gay marriage, it will become the first Midwestern state to do so. Gay marriage is legal in two New England states – Connecticut and Massachusetts. A gay marriage bill in Vermont appears likely to pass in the Legislature this week, but a promised veto by Governor Jim Douglas threatens to derail the effort.

Several, mostly Republican, lawmakers attempted to ban gay marriage in the constitution but failed when Democratic leaders blocked the idea. And with only two weeks left in the legislative session, it appears unlikely lawmakers will tackle the issue.

“I would not anticipate that this body [the Iowa Senate] would want to take any action in the final, waning days of the session because there's so many other issues involving the budget and taxes but that would be a decision for the leaders to make,” openly gay state Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, told The Des Moines Register.

McCoy said he hopes the court will legalize gay marriage. The decision is expected at 8:30AM.