The Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to legalize same-sex marriage in our state marks one of the proudest days in our history. Iowa can now legitimately claim to be on the vanguard of civil rights and human equality. And Iowa is a leader in the Midwest, proving that the perception that gay marriage is an east coast and west coast blue state phenomenon is an oversimplification. Same-sex couples in Iowa are overjoyed that they will be treated respectfully as equals under the law. And mixed-sex couples in Iowa can be proud that marriage is no longer a discriminatory institution in this state.
Yet, since the day that gay marriage was legalized, opponents of equal marriage laws have gathered by the hundreds at the statehouse to demand a vote to change Iowa’s constitution in order to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This route has been taken by many other states, most recently – and distressingly – in California. Simply put: these people want to change the constitution in order to deny marriage rights to their fellow citizens. But now that same-sex marriage is legal, and now that couples will begin to be legally wed on April 24, amending the constitution would entail taking away the extant rights of same-sex couples. Opponents of gay marriage want to change the constitution in order to make it less equitable; they want the Iowa constitution to grant fewer rights. The desire to deny equality to citizens – to limit the scope of civil rights – flies in the face of the very purpose of having a constitution. Why do some straight people want this? Why do some mixed-sex couples want to deny same-sex couples the same rights that they themselves enjoy?
The answer, apparently, is God. That’s right, the God of Love, the Holy Father of Jesus Christ our personal Lord and Savior is also, for some, the father of prejudices against homosexuals. Take, for instance, a joint statement issued by the Catholic Bishops of Iowa, who sanctimoniously announced that the Supreme Court’s ruling “implements a novel understanding of marriage, which will grievously harm families and children.” What? How does increasing the number of loving, committed marriages harm families of all things? And how do two same-sex parents raising a child together harm children of all things? The Bishops’ statement also decried the court for engaging in “social engineering.” But, of course, the Catholic Church itself has spent centuries engaged in a world-historical mission of social engineering, striving to affect the moralities, institutions, practices and even governments of almost every country on the planet.
The fierce opposition of religious conservatives to the gay marriage ruling reveals an unseemly undercurrent of anger and prejudice at the heart of congregations that propose to follow the God of love. The extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples is a victory for love, a victory for equality. But conservative churches treat it as a defeat for marriage, a defeat for tradition (an exclusionary, discriminatory tradition, at that).
Okay, but all of this is beside the point anyway. The United States Constitution explicitly forbids the intrusion of religion into American lawmaking. So, to say that God condemns homosexuality in the Old Testament may be a valid point to make to the congregation at your church, but it holds absolutely no legal weight. On the contrary, it would be a violation of the constitution to make a law on Biblical grounds. So, the response of the conservative religious community to the state Supreme Court’s ruling is just straightforwardly irrelevant.
The religious community itself is becoming increasingly irrelevant to American life. According to a recent Pew Research poll, the number of Americans that say they have no religious affiliation is up to 16.1 percent, more than double the percentage since 1974. The predictable reaction of Iowa’s conservative Christians to the gay marriage ruling gives a good indication of why more and more Americans want nothing to do with organized religion. Here are a group of self-proclaimed followers of Christ who, in God’s name, are going out of their way to try to deny equal rights to their neighbors. And, even more, these Christians who want to change the Iowa constitution are not personally affected by the ruling at all. Mixed-sex couples have not had their rights denied or infringed upon in the least. They are up in arms because other people – their fellow citizens, their neighbors, maybe their children – have been granted rights; rights that they themselves enjoy without any hassling from their homosexual neighbors.
But a vote on amending the state constitution is not immediately forthcoming. It’s already off the table for the current session and, since the House is currently controlled by the Democrats, such a measure is probably years away from moving through the legislature and onto ballots. And in that time, thousands of our neighbors will have the opportunity to commit their lives to one another in marriage. We hope that our state will permanently remain a place of marriage equality. And if Christian conservatives continue to oppose that equality then we hope that Love itself will make them fail.