Category Archives: Commentary

Long Time Gone

I have to wonder if anyone’s still reading this.  It certainly wasn’t our intent for it to go so quiet around here.  But as it frequently does, life happened and here we are a month after the last post.  Summer has been a whirlwind and before you know it, school will be starting up and tht part of life will happen.

Today has been kind of a discouraging day for me on the marriage equality front.  I have found that I am really not a good phone banker.  Not only am I uncomfortable and handle rejection quite poorly, I just don’t have what it takes to whip people up into a frenzy about marriage equality.  And honestly, that kind of sits with my personality.  I am not flashy, I don’t draw attention to myself (usually) and would prefer to fly below the radar.  We hosted a phone bank here today that was very sparsely attended and really didn’t get much accomplished.  I called probably 15 numbers, the vast majority of which were not at home and the two people I actually got bitched me out.  I suppose I can understand that.  I hate the phone as much as the next person, but I try really hard not to be mad at people who call for causes because 1) they really believe in them and 2) they are human beings with feelings.

It’s going to be a shit-fight in January when the legislature reconvenes.  I have been trying to talk myself out of believing that, but it will happen. Even if the people by and large have stopped caring about it, the legislators and politicians have found a hot button issue to rally the troops in an election year.  It WILL be an issue, no matter how much I want to delude myself that it won’t be.

People always ask me why I care.  I’m not gay, I don’t have any gay relatives and didn’t really even know any gay people until the last few years.  I don’t have an easy answer – probably because the answer is complicated and steeped in a lot of my own life story.  But when it comes right down to it, I think the reason I care about LGBT issues in general and marriage equality specifically, it’s because we’re all people.  And while people can be real shitheads sometimes, most of the time, they’re not and they just want to live their lives.

Musician Darren Hayes posted on his myspace blog a picture of him and his husband in Paris last November.  It was right after Prop 8 passed and as a gay man, he was emotionally affected.  He wrote the following which, while not entirely accurate (there was no attempt to change the U.S. Constitution), the sentiments still ring true.

We’re married.
Some folks in California decided to change the American Constitution to legislate
that this right should not be given to gay people in California.
Presumably because of what gay people will do to the definition of marriage.

Just so we are clear, this is our definition of marriage:
We want to grow old together.
We love each other so much that we want to share our lives together, forever.
We are monogamous. We’re faithful. We’re in it for the long haul.
Sometimes we argue over who’s turn it is to make a cup of tea, but for the most
part we are soul mates.

If, God forbid, one of us should fall ill, one of us will take care of the other one.
If,, God forbid, one of us should pass away suddenly, we would want our estate to go
to the one of us who survives.
We’d like other stuff too, like, you know, the same tax breaks as other married couples
and the civil rights you would extend any other committed couple in the free world.
And to be able to be respected and receive the same rights that everyone else has.

But mostly, we just want to grow old together.

We’re really lucky that the country we live in allows for same sex partners to receive
all of these things. But some folks in California recently decided that some Americans
did not deserve this same respect.

So for those people who voted to ‘ban’ gay marriage; to take away a right and permanently
discriminate against a minority group – I wanted to share this picture of Richard and I.
It’s us, tearing down the fabric of good society and the sanctity of marriage in Paris.
Lock up your children!

paris

I have always loved that picture and meant to blog it on my other blog but then the ship sailed and it seemed stupid to do so.

Today, it seems worth repeating.

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?

Why marriage matters

I know that I promised on May 5th (wow, 11 days ago) that there would be more posts here.  If there’s any one thing I hate, it’s blogs that go for weeks without getting updated, and then there’s the post that says “sorry I haven’t updated in a while, life has been busy!”  I don’t know how many readers we have , but this blog is important to Heidi and me.  We will attempt to be a bit more diligent in our writing.

Now having said that, life has been a whirlwind around here.  There have been the standard things to get caught up in – the school year is winding down and we’re also getting ready to take a vacation.  But it’s been more than that.  Over the last 10 days, we have witnessed a dear friend of ours go from being merely sick, to being hospitalized, to being moved to ICU and finally put on a ventilator.  The reasons for this are not entirely clear, and after a tense week, she is well on the road to recovery.  Youth (she is significantly younger than me) is definitely on her side and she has a fighting spirit that will see her through this and the path to a complete recovery.

It was during this time that I realized why marriage really matters.  Her husband is considered next of kin, and with that came the authority to make medical decisions for his wife when she was unable to make her own medical decisions.  Not even her own mother could override the decisions that he made.  Legally, he had the final say.  It got me to thinking about how were he her boyfriend or even her fiance, that assignment would not immediately fall to him.  Without the legality of  a marriage, he could have easily found himself on the outside looking in, while decisions regarding the woman he loved were made, possibly without his input.

Now, of course that is overdrawing it for effect, but is it?  What I was really surprised by was how much those of us who have been afforded the luxury of being married before April 27th really take all that for granted.  Because the history of HIV and the ensuing AIDS epidemic is of such interest to me, it made me think about how many gay men were denied the right to simply be with their dying partners because they were not family, at least not in the legal sense.

So to those who would deny the LGBT community these simple rights, I would ask them to honestly think about how they would feel were they were overruled by their spouse’s immediate family in making health care decisions.

In the meantime, marriage equality will have been the law of the Iowa land for three weeks tomorrow.  Miraculously, the sky is still there.  Life has gone on.  But don’t get complacent.  Things may be quieter now, but this is but the eye of the hurricane.  With 2010 a gubernatorial election year, the entire Iowa House and half the Iowa Senate up for re-election, you can bet that this is only the beginning.  Keep on fighting and most importantly, walk the walk.

Seven days

It has been seven days since same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the state of Iowa.  It has also been nearly that long since there’s been a post on this blog!  That was not intentional as I think both Heidi and I had meant to post several times.  I, for one, have several posts brewing in my head, but have lacked the time and energy to write them.  But fear not, gentle readers, they are coming.  I am going to try to get at least one of them posted this week.

So what’s happened in the seven days since marriage equality became the law of the land in Iowa?  More than 450 couples have applied for and been granted marriage licenses.  Couples from Minnesota and Missouri have come to Iowa to be married, even though they know that their marriages will not be recognized in their home states.

But what’s more interesting is what hasn’t happened.  The apocalypse has not arrived.  The sky has not fallen.  The world has not stopped turning.  People are continuing to go about their daily business.  But for a certain segment of the population, that business now includes having the same basic rights that I have taken for granted my whole life.

Seven days later, the world is still, more or less, the same.  And this is despite what some of the most angry and vitriolic members of the other side predicted.

There will be more posts this week, I promise.

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.

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

Just might do something rash

As I was preparing to write this post, Prince’s “Strange Relationship” came up randomly on iTunes and the lyric “Honey if U left me I just might do something rash” seemed oddly appropriate. It seems like there’s not a day goes by that emotions are not running high. The rhetoric on both sides of the issue of marriage equality seems only to ratchet up. Rash actions are everywhere these days.  A recently released report by the Department of Homeland Security warns of the risk of increasing right-wing extremism.  Members of the Iowa Legislature are receiving frightening e-mails at best and death threats at worst.  Republican candidate for governor Bob Vander Plaats stated Tuesday that if he were elected governor, he would  immediately stay the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision by executive order, and encouraged current governor Chet Culver to do the same, even though the governor has no such authority.  And finally, Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City) attempted yesterday, once again, to force debate on a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage by attaching it to the already controversial tax bill being debated in the Iowa House.  Look for that to make news today, although some reports state that the bill is already dead for this session.

See what I mean about emotions running high?

However, amidst all this rashness, I found what is perhaps one of my favorite editorials yet on marriage equality and the ongoing attempts to get a vote on amending the state Constitution.  It was the lead editorial in the Des Moines Register.  What it accomplished was the opposite of rash.  It calmly detailed how arguments that the court was “activist” by “legislating from the bench” are erroneous.  It also answered Vander Plaats question “Who is to balance the courts?  Who says the courts get the final say?” simply and eloquently.  It’s the Constitution, stupid.

But the best part is here, when speaking about the amendment process here in Iowa:

Amendments must be initiated in the General Assembly, passed by each chamber and again by a second General Assembly separated by an election, and then ratified by a vote of the people. This deliberative process avoids rash changes made in the heat of passion that people might later come to regret – like the drama playing out right now.

What I’m hoping for, and the point I keep coming back to is that the time built into the amendment process is one that will hopefully allow cooler heads to prevail.  Make no mistake – even though the amendment process is likely dead for this session, it WILL come up next session.  I also think that members of the legislature will have to run on either their support or lack thereof of marriage equality.  Exactly how that will affect the election is anyone’s guess, but we’ll hope it is works out for equality rather than discrimination.

As a friend of mine pointed out to me yesterday, social conservatives have a long history of declaring that the sky is falling.  But there it is, still up there.  As a recent letter to the editor in the Quad City Times stated, everyone knows a gay person.  They are our neighbors and co-workers and friends.  Gay men have taught me more about the new masculinity than any straight guy I have known.  And simply put, they deserve equal treatment under the law.  Ultimately, those marriage equality foes will trot out religious argument after religious argument, it boils down to the state of Iowa will not discriminate.  Period.

Finally, this video has been posted all across the blogosphere, but it merits posting here as well.  It successfully debunks every talking point that opponents of marriage equality have.  I post it not to gloat or preach to the choir, but I hope that even one person might be swayed to supporting the cause by realizing it is not about religion or gay marriage.  It is about discrimination.