03 April 2009


So, you might have heard the news - gay folk in Iowa, in about 21 days, can marry. The state Supreme Court's decision was unanimous, and their reasoning was pretty clear. I hadn't known before today that the motto on the Iowa State Flag is: "Our Liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain," but it seems particularly resonant today.

Others have written more in depth than I could about the import of this and the legal thinking underpinning it - Lawdork in particular, here. I did want to mention that Iowa's state Constitution, like Mass. and unlike California's, is very hard to change - it takes two consecutive state legislatures to vote to amend, and then before the change is enacted it must go before the people to be voted on in a state wide election. That would seem to indicate that the earliest that discrimination could be written into the Iowa state constitution is 2012, but both houses of the Leg have said they have no plans to take it up, at least for now.

The longer this is the reality, the less likely it is to get overturned. The more that people see gay folk getting married, the less they are going to care about it. The more that older folk die off and Gen X'ers and Y's and Milennials become a larger percentage of the voting block - and to indulge you coasters, yes, "even in Iowa" - the more likely it is that these cultural wedge issues will stop working.

Two items -
1. Senator Harkin, Iowa's very liberal Democratic Senator, had this to say:

My personal view has been that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I have voted in support of that concept. But I also fundamentally believe that same sex couples in a civil union should be entitled to all the basic legal protections and benefits of marriage.
I know that this decision will be very hard for many to accept. But I also know that it will provide many committed same sex couples and families important rights, as well as an important sense of recognition and belonging.

Well, thanks for the support, Senator - but Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which any 11th grader in your state's top-of-the-tables public high schools (your students did have the highest composite SAT scores of any state in the country; 4th highest ACT scores; and one of the lowest dropout rates) could tell you, already settled the question that separate isn't equal; civil unions do not marriages make.

And let's reverse the question - why is the state involved in religious unions at all? Let religions do what they want, but when an adult Hawkeye, or Hoosier or Texan or any American shows up before a judge in this country with another adult that he or she has hoodwinked or bamboozled into wanting to live with her or him for the rest of their lives - the state should for the common welfare support those two love besotted fools and give 'em the certificate. And call it marriage. OR, alternately, stop calling anything that you give to two people who show up and want to make a similar declaration "marriage." Call them all "civil unions" when issued by civil authorities, and if two people want to recreate the hackneyed medieval European rituals of property exchange* in front of someone who claims to know something about an infinite divine after a few years of study, then hey, it's a free country. Go get a "marriage" from a preacher.

The issue, while emotional, isn't complex - it's easy: equality before the law. That's it. It is a fundamental belief of our civic institutions or it isn't. We know separate isn't equal. We know that "civil unions" for same sex couples and "marriage" for different sex couples isn't equal. So we have to decide that we extend the franchise of "marriage" to same sex folk or we get government out of the business of granting marriages to anyone.

And it's so great reading all the huffing and puffing of those opposed to same sex marriage - the paucity of the intellectual arguments is, frankly, embarrassing. "It demeans the institution" they wail, without any supporting evidence. If that were one of my kids writing that in an essay, I'd say "Show, don't tell. Examples? Evidence?" "That's the way it's always been" is another favorite. Like the Court said today (and read the decision - it's pretty clear):

Since territorial times, Iowa has given meaning to this constitutional provision (of equal protection), striking blows to slavery and segregation, and recognizing women’s rights. The court found the issue of same-sex marriage comes to it with the same importance as the landmark cases of the past.

And the court went on to say, unanimously, that like those landmark cases of the past status quo doesn't equal the way things ought to be. We are rightfully embarrassed by the status quo of a generation ago - banning the kinds of unions that gave us our President, for example - and keeping things the way they are because that's the way they are is not even an argument.

Not one of the "arguments" in support of banning gay marriage even passes the laugh test in a civil court room; the only arguments to ban are religious. And we live in a civil society. And the Iowa Supreme Court did the right thing today for those brave men and women who sued to be equal before the law.

Freakin' awesome.

Oh, #2? It was this article about a gay kid playing big time D-I college football on a team in the "Bible Belt." Read it, the whole thing. If football players in the Bible Belt can say things like "I know about you, and if anyone ever messes with you, you just tell me who they are and I'll beat the crap out of whoever it is," c'mon, seriously... gay marriage? It's gonna happen. Everywhere. Soon. The cultural ground has shifted.

As long as brave men and women continue to stand up and come out and say that, yup, we are equal before the law and expect to be treated that way, the tortorous arguments of the past just won't be sufficient anymore.

So lead on, Iowa. And thanks for the reminder that "Our Liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain" means all of us. E pluribus unum.

*(And no, for the record, I do not hereby waive any future rights to recreate the hackneyed medieval European rituals of property exchange. The bf is from Iowa, after all...:)

1 comment:

Celeste said...

Yay Iowa! Isn't it surprising that Iowa is more progressive than California? It is to me. Maybe my next vacation should be to Iowa? They have Target there, right? But seriously, that is great news.