DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) --- Iowa voters for the first time in nearly 50 years removed Supreme Court justices in Tuesday's election, siding with conservatives angered by a ruling that allowed gay marriage.

Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit were on the court of seven justices who decided last year that an Iowa law restricting marriage to one man and one woman violated the state's constitution.

They needed a simple majority to retain their seats, but more than 54 percent of voters had decided not to retain them with most of the vote counted. It was the first time voters removed Supreme Court justices since the current retention system was approved in 1962.

Gay marriage opponents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to convince voters to reject the justices.

A group of former governors, lawyers and judges countered that Iowa's independent judiciary was at risk if a one-issue campaign succeeded in removing the justices.

The effort to remove the Supreme Court justices was led by former Republican candidate for governor Bob Vander Plaats.

"Iowa stood up with a resounding voice and said we're not going to allow activist courts make our laws and amend our constitution," he said.

While rural counties voted against retention, the justices prevailed in the state's most populous counties, though only narrowly in some of those.

Five Iowa Court of Appeals judges also on the statewide ballot were all retained with more than 62 percent of the vote.

Although the justices can by law raise money and campaign to keep their jobs, the three opted against such a high-profile effort.

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"Throughout our judicial service we endeavored to serve the people of Iowa by always adhering to the rule of law, making decisions fairly and impartially according to law, and faithfully upholding the constitution," Ternus, Streit and Baker said in a joint statement.

Advocacy groups, including Fair Courts for Us, asked voters to retain the justices. That group included former Republican Gov. Robert Ray, former Lt. Gov. Art Neu, and Christie Vilsack, the wife of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, also a former Iowa governor.

The group said it was outspent by four to one and without the financial resources failed to reach voters, particularly in rural areas.

"We've worked extra hard to keep politics and campaign money out of our court system," said the group's co-chairman Dan Moore. "We're concerned about the precedent that has been set tonight and what it means for the influence of money and politics on our judicial system."

Those who wanted to oust the three justices argued that by striking down a law banning gay marriage, the high court in effect, amended the state constitution, which can only be done through a referendum. They said the justices were legislating from the bench, and should therefore be removed.

Voter Don Bryan, a lumber yard employee from Grinnell, agreed that judges went too far.

"The judges kind of tried to legislate from the bench and I don't really appreciate that," he said. "They're there to interpret the law, and they can't just interpret the law, then we need somebody who can."

Those who wanted to retain the justices, including many law groups, said ousting them would upset the balance of power. They noted that the three justices were appointed by Republican and Democratic governors.

The justices will leave the bench at the end of the year. The court will continue to function with the four remaining members until appointees are named.

The governor will make the appointments based on nominees selected by the state's 15-member judicial nominating commission.

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