Author Archives: Heidi Cullinan

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see Iowa gain marriage equality when states like California, whom we would naturally expect to be pioneers, have had it rescinded.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?


The Next Generation

Ethan McNamee is a LGBT activist.  He got started because he overheard some gay slurs among his friends and because he found out a gay couple who lived in his neighborhood couldn’t get married.  So, because he felt it was important to stand up for equality, he organized a rally for marriage equality in his hometown of Denver, Colorado.  His only hangup was that he had to have someone else officially file the permit for the rally, because at nine years old, it wasn’t legal for him to do so.

(Full story here)


What I love most about this story is that it’s very unlikely that this young man is able to fully identify his own sexuality yet, which means that this is much more about doing what he feels is right than protecting a peer group.  If you listen to his speech, you’ll hear him speak of police brutality against gays, and he asks how he is supposed to trust police officers if he knows that they can do this to a group.  Yes, he has some nine year-old reasoning and arguments in his speech, but it isn’t what he says that is so powerful; it’s that he is so young and so moved to speak at all.

In part because of how we have raised her, our daughter is already a fierce marriage equality advocate.  She has a One Iowa t-shirt which she wears proudly (usually to bed because it’s a bit oversized at this point), and if she hears I am attending a rally or volunteering for One Iowa, she asks to go.  She was very disappointed when she went with me to the last hours of our shift at the Story County Recorder’s office on Marriage Day and no couples came through for her to welcome.  When I told her that we had a picnic date with two of the “moms” who picked up licenses that day and their children, you would have thought I told her we would be dining with celebrities.  To Anna, LGBT rights should be granted without question.  To Anna and many of her peers, it is difficult to grasp even why LGBT persons would be shut out from the law.  

Ethan and Anna are of a generation which will grow up for at least for years with an African American President of the United States.  They have been told this is a significant step, but to them, it will simply be normal.  For a minimum of four more years, marriage equality will be the law in Iowa.  In four years Ethan McNamee and my daughter will be thirteen and eleven, respectively.  They will both be on the cusp or leading edge of puberty, and regardless of what their own sexualities might be, they will be discovering, by pure law of statistics, that some of their friends are or might be LGBT.  They will have seen more and more LGBT couples and stories about them.  For them, unless adults tell them otherwise, it will seem very odd that people who have been marrying since they were in elementary school suddenly can’t, if anyone tries to push such an amendment.  Children who are eleven and thirteen now will, in four years, be finishing high school and beginning college.   They will be very near to voting age as well, and will have seen even more clearly how normal and natural LGBT persons are, and how very many they number among their peers.  It will seem even stranger to them to deny their friends rights that they had witnessed in their culture all through middle school and high school.

On May 30th, One Iowa is hosting a Grassroots Power Summit in Des Moines.  Once again, One Iowa is leading the way with positive, proactive education and information, not to wage a war against “the enemy” but to continue to build a bridge of understanding between the LGBT community and all Iowans.  I’ve already put in my reservation to be there, and I hope you will, too.  I want to help continue to make Iowa the leader in civil rights and equality.  I want to help keep Iowa a place where all the Ethans and Annas, regardless of their orientation, can be not just proud, but safe, to be whoever they need to be.  I think it’s wonderful that Ethan McNamee feels so passionate about equality, and his actions hearten me.  But as the adult that comes before him, it only makes me want to work harder so that when, in nine years, he becomes a fully legal adult in our society, he and all his friends find that they are full and legal citizens of the United States, free to love and marry whomever their heart tells them is right.

So Very Normal

There is, of course, so much to report from yesterday that it’s not possible to catch it all.  But a nice place to begin is The Des Moines Register, where you can scan the photo gallery.  It’s a riot of hugging and smiling and lines and lines of same-sex couples wanting to be married.  There are a few protesters in there as well, but not many, because mostly yesterday was about the marriage licenses.  There were petitions delivered at many County Recorder offices, but these were, thankfully, simply delivered.  I have yet to hear substantiated reports of any serious tussles over granting licenses, and I hope that I don’t.  You can see an interactive map of which counties granted licenses and how many here.

This article, also from The Des Moines Register, sums up both sides rather well, I think.  It reports same-sex couples feeling relief that the legal issues are resolved and enjoying the validation, and then you have statements like this: 


“We just feel this type of judicial decision not only doesn’t reflect what most Iowans believe, but it’s also harmful to our state and to our country,” said Kurt Korver, 42, an Orange City doctor. “If a neighborhood is filled with homosexual couples, you wouldn’t want to have kids in that neighborhood. The purpose of government is to restrain bad behavior for the good of society.”

As outrageous as this statement is to any marriage rights advocate (and hopefully to many who identify as neutral/undecided as well), it is worth examining because it illustrates the most difficult hurdle ahead of LGBT rights and peace among Iowans in general on this issue. There is absolutely no logical or practical leap between a change in legal status for couples already living, working, and parenting in Iowa and a sudden state of neighborhoods “filled with homosexual couples.”  And if we were lucky enough to have this happen, we know very well we would soon see our neighborhoods either looking very much the same except that we’d be inviting over Jane and Sara or Bob and Dave instead of Jane and Bob and Sara and Dave for barbeque or any other boring, normal everyday events.  But this isn’t how the opposition sees the LGBT community, and nothing short of living through decades where they realize their fears have not come to pass will convince them it has not, but even then they might find it hard to let go.  

Yesterday I volunteered at the Story County Recorder.  I was there to pass out information from One Iowa and Lambda Legal, to answer questions, and to provide moral support.  The Story County Recorder was absolutely, one-hundred percent supportive.  They had no “gay agenda,” but they did have a human agenda.  Nine same-sex couples registered in that office yesterday, and one opposite-sex couple, and they were all treated exactly the same.  The staff were helpful and patient and took time to answer all questions.  They smiled.  They made reassuring eye contact.  They were not over-eager.  They made no judgments of any kind.  They looked, in fact, often very pleased to be helping people get married.  I suspect that’s a high perk of that job.  They were even patient with the press, allowing them back behind the counter to get better photographs of the event.  

The couples themselves were, overall, quiet, eager, and happy.  Some were very nervous. Several applicants had children.  One couple was Mark Kassis and Terry Lowman, whom I know from Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames, and because of their high community profile and long-term status, came with high media coverage and a full cadre of supporters, though they were there mostly to finish the paperwork they hadn’t been allowed to finish in 2007. 

One woman was slipping over on her lunch break at work and was simply picking up the paperwork, as her partner was still in Kansas City and would be moving up in May.  She came into the administration building and bee-lined for me, asking, “Are you with One Iowa?”  She was a competent, professional woman, but she was clearly glad for support at this moment.  She was excited to move her family to Ames, hoping to find a house for their four foster children, eager to be married and make their union legal.  This was all.  She had no designs on anyone else’s marriage.  She had no desire to rewrite anyone’s belief systems.  She just wanted to get married, get a house, raise her children, and love her partner with full legal security.

A lawyer who works nearby kept popping over to “get the news” and see how the day was progressing, and she summed the day up best.  “It’s all so very normal,” she said, a smile spreading across her face.  And she’s right.  When I look at the online photos, I see the couples going to register, and it is so very normal.  There’s nothing special about it, because they’re just people in love like everyone else.  It’s so Iowa. 

I think a number of marriage opponents in the Midwest fear is that cultures they see and imagine from elsewhere in the world or even in time will somehow appear in their backyard.  I think they imagine narrow, shadowy shades of gay nightclubs, painted from bad news reports and their own imaginations, and they mix it in with carnal, delicious and terrifying ideas of what bathhouses must be like.  So much of this, still, is about sex.  The midwest, more than anywhere else, is a place where we don’t discuss sex, and for the most die-hard marriage opponents here, there is no erasing the image of gay men as anything but Sodom and Gomorrah in the worst possible Biblical interpretation.  It doesn’t matter that this image was never true, or that even when it has been, it has been so in small, isolated places, and was often born out of backlash of prejudice and discrimination.  It doesn’t matter that every single couple who registered yesterday was completely interchangeable with any couple registering on any other day except that these couples were made up of same-sex couples.  There is a mental programming of what “gay” means in the minds of many, and it will be long, hard work to make it go away.

mark-terryMark and Terry were married yesterday.  They were, in fact, married in 2007, and they have been more married than most of us have for a long, long time now.  They have been business partners and parents for decades.  They are friends.  They are lovers.  They are everything that all of us wish we could have when we dream of being partnered in a relationship.  They are prominent members of a community.  They are leaders.  They are examples.  They are devoted, but they are, of course, Iowans, so they really aren’t showy about it.  They are practical.  They are kind, and generous, and human.  They are, in short, just like the rest of us, except to be honest they do a great deal of it better than most of us, because they’re one of Those couples, for whom it just comes so naturally.  And yet Mark and Terry and the countless other Mark and Terrys, visible and invisible in Iowa, are not enough to stop comments like the one I cited above, which goes to show us that very little will be able to stop them except time and patience.  Even despite commentary like this, you have but to read the comment section to see it falls on deaf ears.  Those who want to believe gay marriage is a threat will accept nothing but the threat, even when it doesn’t materialize.

Iowa has had its two days in the sun.  We will get a bit of spotlight again during the next caucus cycle, but beyond this, it is over.  We have had our days as civil rights leaders, and we are now a little higher on the international Cool Index.  But I have news for Mr. Korver, and Mr. Hurley, and all the other people panicking and waiting for the rain of fire to begin: it won’t.  The lawyer was right.  Iowa is, as ever, pathologically normal.  Even when we are the third state to legalize same-sex marriage, we are still normal.  We will still be the butt of corn and pig jokes.  We will still be told there is nothing to do here.  We will still have weather that is too hot and too cold and usually in the same week.  We will still eat too much of Things On Sticks at the Iowa State Fair, and it will still be so hot you nearly pass out while we do it.  There will still be chronic construction on Interstate 80.  There will still be morel mushrooms in the spring, which someone will pick off your land before you have a chance to get out there yourself.

We will still have floods and famines.  We will still have tornadoes.  We will still have fires and crises and calamities and sorrows.  And we will still, as we have always done, help each other through them.  We will volunteer and bake things and have fundraisers.  There will still be jello with fruit in it at every church function–even Unitarian.  The only thing that will change because of yesterday will be that, slowly, quietly, and probably with a bit of Iowa hesitation, straight people will begin to notice that there have been loving committed homosexual and bisexual couples around them all along.  Which, once they get over their surprise, they will realize means that there is more community, and because everyone is recognized, it is a stronger community.

So normal.  So very, very normal.

Today is the day

Today is Marriage Day!

If you are heading to an Iowa County Recorder today, congratulations, and best wishes!  Be sure to look for One Iowa volunteers and staff for support, or at least an extra cheer.  Also remember to visit One Iowa’s website for helpful tips and guidesheets.  I recommend especially Lambda Legal’s FAQ sheet, as it has extensive discussion of issues such as out-of-state/leaving state issues and discusses deeper, less exciting but still important legal aspects of marriage as it relates to same-sex couples. The Chicago Tribune also has a nice blow-by-blow/summary of what is needed to receive a license today.  (Makes me wish I were in more of a border county!)

There may be protesters today, and there will be people viewing today as a fearful, dangerous event.  There are prayer protests planned, which, so long as they are for understanding and love, I’m all for.   But remember that not everyone feels that way, and that a good number of these allies are in religious institutions, too.  Remember, if you’re near Des Moines, come to their celebration tonight at Des Moines Social Club.  If you’re not, find one in your area, or make your own!  Whatever you do, enjoy today.  Don’t let anyone else’s fear or uncertainty bring you down.  Today is an historic day.  Enjoy it to its fullest.

And say hi if you register in Story County!  I’ll be at the courthouse from 9-3.

Love Not Laws

There have been a number of youtube responses to NOM’s “Gathering Storm” ad, and I have enjoyed them, but this is the first one that I thought was truly in the spirit of what we’re trying to do with this blog.

I love how NOM released an ad to stir things up in Iowa and it became a national sensation.  I love how the lies and misrepresentations have been deconstructed, reconstructed, and essentially undone. But I love this one because it is a positive message.  And I’m still in love with the One Iowa ad: may it stay on the air for a long, long time.

Death and Rebirth


In a more perfect world I would have written this post on Easter Sunday, but it feels, in a way, more appropriate today.  Easter was a nice day, but this day is even better. The temperatures were in the 80s (but it wasn’t humid!), the sun was shining, and a sturdy but still gentle breeze whipped in through the open window screens.  I took the opportunity to scrub down our screened in porch, and now my family is enjoying a warm spring evening there.  My daughter is playing “town” with some blocks, and my husband is reading on the laptop.  Soft music is playing in the background.  The ledges are filled with plants (and cats), and a feng shui fountain burbles quietly in a corner beneath a string of fairy lights.  And on today, a warm spring day, it is only four days until one era ends and a new one begins in our state.  Yes, I think today is a much better day to write about death and rebirth, even though Easter might have initially seemed to have been more appropriate. Continue reading

Wedding Day Approaching!

gayweddingmenThis coming Monday, April 27, is the day county recording offices will begin issuing same-sex wedding licenses in Iowa. It’s so exciting to simply write that!  Are you getting married?  Are you helping plan for a wedding?  I can’t wait to start hearing these stories, and I will admit freely I am waiting like a wallflower, hoping to be invited to some.

In the meantime, I imagine some people are nervous about going to their county offices because it’s hard to shake off years of stigma and the idea that marriage is reserved for heterosexuals.  The good news?  One Iowa is on the case again, providing you with much needed information and tips.  Please sign up and keep yourself informed and your rights protected.

One Iowa is also helping to network volunteers to help county recorders and to help same-sex couples feel reassured when they sign up for licenses.  I’m going to be one of them, in fact–as of right now it looks like I’ll be at Webster City during the day and then Story County after 4PM, but that could change.  All I can say is that I wish Dan and I had this kind of support when we went to register for a license. 200-x-200-commitment

You have, too, I hope seen the new licenses themselves?  “Partner A” and “Partner B.”  If I weren’t married already, these would be the forms I’d use.  There was so much built-in sexism to the process, even back in 1997; I got so tired of seeing commercial publications urging me to become “Mrs. Daniel Cullinan.”  I love the simplicity of Partner A and Partner B.  I love what a gender and orientation equalizer this is.  I’ve heard people–gay and straight–say that calling it “marriage” isn’t a big deal, but you know, it is.  It’s the word we’ve set up for many, many years to signify a committed union.  It has social as well as legal implications.  

So if I end up volunteering at your county recorder and I’m a bit over-excited, please forgive me.  Or, better yet, be very excited along with me.

Happy planning!


UPDATE: Here is a link to One Iowa’s outstanding marriage resource page.  Thank them with a donation if you’re so inclined!