In retrospective narratives about Barack Obama’s path to the White House, the Iowa caucus is universally acknowledged as a pivotal moment for the success of his campaign. His win in Iowa is considered to have made a psychological impact on voters around the country and to have created a sense of confidence that he would be able to win states with small African-American populations. Iowa voters challenged the expectations of voters around the country and helped create a momentum for Obama that brought him all the way to the presidency.
Iowa now finds itself again in a position to affect the nation’s political psyche, this time in the area of gay rights. The word “Iowa” hasn’t yet had the kind of affective force that “Massachusetts” or “California” have had in the rhetoric of the gay marriage debate, but if Iowa becomes the next state to legalize gay marriage, it will have a massive impact on perceptions of the cultural feasibility of such unions. And this really could happen.
In fact, same-sex marriage was legal in the state of Iowa for one day in 2007, from August 30-31, when a Polk County District Court Judge named Robert Hanson ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. During the brief time when it was legal, Sean Fritz and Tim McQuillan, a couple from Ames, were married in Des Moines. Judge Hanson’s ruling was soon suspended after being almost immediately appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court and the other couples who wanted to marry and had applied for licenses were too late for their unions to be recognized as marriages by the state.
On December 9, 2008 the Iowa Supreme Court began hearing the same-sex marriage case and Iowa may now be on a path to becoming the first Midwest state to allow civil marriages for gay couples. Same-sex partners are currently granted full marriage rights only in Massachusetts and Connecticut. California’s Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May of this year but, on November 4, voters approved Proposition 8 to amend the state constitution and define marriage as being a union between a man and a woman. The amendment is currently being challenged in the courts, but the passing of Proposition 8 has been widely viewed as a setback to the burgeoning gay marriage movement.
But, the success of Proposition 8 in California will only briefly interrupt the inevitable move toward the legalization of same-sex marriage in states around the country. And Iowa could be the next major step in the progression toward marriage equality.
Let’s hope that it is. Legalizing gay marriage would extend rights to thousands of Iowans without infringing on the rights of a single person. By this point, the doomed opponents of gay marriage are obsessively holding onto a heterosexual definition of the word “marriage” out of a totally misguided fear that allowing same-sex couples to officially marry will somehow a) lead to the sanctioning of polygamy, b) threaten Christian values or c) destroy America’s cultural and moral foundations. But these worn-out fears are extra-legal. The legal issue is whether or not it is constitutional to extend marriage rights to some citizens while denying marriage rights to others.
Every adult couple in this state ought to have the right to define their own partnerships in the terms that they see fit. Same-sex and mixed-sex couples should be equally recognized by the state when they determine that marriage is the best form for their partnership to take.
Equal marriage rights for same-sex couples would fulfill – not undermine – the moral foundations of American culture. Our history is a gradual expansion of equality under the law. Marriage equality will extend rights and personal freedoms to homosexual citizens without encroaching on the rights of any citizens. And beyond our national heritage there is a simple decency issue here. It is unfair and priggish for heterosexual opponents of gay marriage to refuse rights to others that they themselves enjoy.
The Ames community is home to many loving, same-sex couples that have committed themselves to a lifetime partnership. When committed partners – gay or straight – want to marry, we ought to encourage and support them; it is unjust to refuse to allow partners – gay or straight – to express their love and commitment as they see fit. Many partners in our community see fit to express their commitment as marriage; soon, gay partners will have the same right to do so as straight partners.
It came as a surprise to most Americans that Iowans would embrace an African-American candidate for president. And it would come as a surprise to most Americans if Iowa’s highest court were to legalize same-sex marriage. But this is a moment for our state to take a leadership role in marriage equality. The perception of Iowa as a conservative and rural state would add to the power of the message our state would send to the nation.
It’s time for same-sex marriage rights in Iowa.