Why Iowa will always matter

It has been difficult to see Iowa gain marriage equality when states like California, whom we would naturally expect to be pioneers, have had it rescinded.  It’s fun to point out the irony of Smash t-shirts and to tease friends and family there about how it’s too bad they can’t be as progressive as Iowa, but it’s lightheartedness borne to mask the pain and frustration of knowing that so many people in that state are now quite officially second-class citizens.  We find ourselves hoping that, soon, this injustice will be reversed.  Until then we Iowans can at best, it seems, stand as a beacon of hope.

I read a piece this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle, however, which gave me a little tingle.  It reported that the federal judge presiding over two California couples’s lawsuit against Proposition 8 will take the case straight to trial, and the SFC listed some of the concerns the judge has, and exposes what sort of examination he will make of the case. His greatest concern seems to be, “Is there discrimination against gays and lesbians?”  This is what the prosecution is claiming, that gays and lesbians are being denied Constitutional rights to equality under this ballot initiative.  When the attorney for the sponsors of Prop 8 said there’s no discrimination, past or present, because gays are free to marry, so long as it’s to the opposite sex, Walker (the federal judge) had a built-in response in his order: 

Walker said in his order, however, that past discrimination is relevant in evaluating a law that limits the right to marry.

A related issue, he said, is “whether the availability of opposite-sex marriage is a meaningful option for gays and lesbians.”

He said opponents of same-sex marriage may also need to present evidence to justify their arguments that children are best raised by a married mother and father, and that allowing gays and lesbians to wed “destabilizes opposite-sex marriage.”

Citing the plaintiffs’ argument that Prop. 8 was motivated by antagonism toward homosexuals, Walker also said he may want to take a look at campaign ads and ballot arguments to establish voters’ intent.

Anyone who read the Iowa Supreme Court brief in Varnum vs. Brien with any attention should start seeing familiar verbiage appear.  These are the same concerns raised in our state’s legal challenge to discrimination, and our non-partisan Supreme Court came down unanimously in the favor of gays and lesbians.  Not only is this precedent set, but also all arguments, witnesses, and testimony used here is public record, and therefore easily available to the prosecution attorneys in the Prop 8 case.  Those attorneys, by the way, are the same attorneys who argued for Bush and Gore in the 2000 election.

When we think of Decision Day here in Iowa, we think of the joy and pride we had for Iowa families that were, after such a long time, finally validated.  But we should also think of the families in other states, too, because it will forever be our state’s landmark decision which will help frame the arguments for future cases for equality.  The court of public opinion may be easy to manipulate, but these briefs and rulings echo long and loud in the world of law.  Time may not remember Iowa with the glory that we would like to, and two hundred years from now Iowans may be discovering our pioneering lead in LGBT rights with the same surprise some of us now are discovering our early adoption of human and civil rights for African Americans and women.  But rest assured that the law will not forget.  

And in a way, such a quiet, no-fuss revolution is very Iowa.  Don’t you think?

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