Saturday, April 4, 2009

Gay Marriage Comes To Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court made its long-awaited ruling on the case of Varnum v. Brien on Friday, allowing gay marriage in Iowa. The lawsuit was filed in 2005 on behalf of six same-sex couples who argued that the state’s ban on gay marriage violated their rights to equal protection and due process. The ruling makes Iowa only the third state (after Massachusetts and Connecticut) to allow equal gay marriage. reports that State Senator Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, an openly gay legislator, had this to say about the ruling: "Today is a red-letter day for the state of Iowa. All of Iowa’s citizens now have equal protection under the law. Thousands of Iowans who have worked hard, raised families, and paid taxes will now be afforded the opportunity to marry. As a lifelong Iowan, I know that fair-minded people throughout our state support equality for all. I have never been more proud of all the Iowans who have worked continuously for the advancement of human rights for all."

Many Republicans were disappointed by the ruling. GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City summed up their thoughts: "The Defense of Marriage Act had strong bipartisan support when it was introduced and debated in our legislature. That bipartisan support for traditional marriage between one man and one woman reflected the will of the people then – and reflects the will of the people now. On an issue of this monumental importance to the very foundation of our society, I believe a vote of the people is necessary. I hope the General Assembly will take the required steps to give Iowans a voice is this process on the most basic of issues – and that Governor Culver will take a leadership role to let all Iowans express their opinion.”

There were calls from conservative leaders to amend Iowa’s constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. An amendment seems unlikely in the near term, as such a measure would have to be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Iowa General Assembly, then by a vote of the people. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Thursday that it was “exceedingly unlikely” that the current session would pass legislation regarding gay marriage. A “Hail Mary pass” possibly available to conservatives in 2010 is that the question of whether to hold a state constitutional convention will be placed before Iowa voters, as it is every 10 years.

While I support the Iowa court’s recent decision, I don’t think that it is the quantum leap forward in individual liberty that gay rights advocates make it out to be. It is an advancement in equality under the law (certainly a worthy goal), but not in individual liberty overall. The gay rights advocates are not challenging the authority of omnipotent government, they're merely seeking its blessing.

As I explained in “Gay Marriage In Iowa” (11-28-08) and Beth Cody pointed out more recently, the real debate should be whether the state should be in the marriage business at all. Even with the recent ruling, supposedly free people (gay and straight alike) must ask for the state’s permission to marry the person of their choosing. So long as that remains the case, a larger issue of freedom remains.

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