Iowa Joins the Marriage Equality States

With today’s unanimous decision, the Iowa Supreme Court made Iowa the third state to approve of same sex marriage joining Massachusetts and Connecticut.  According to the story in the Washington Post

The decision will be considered final in 21 days unless a rehearing is formally requested. The county that challenged the lower court’s ruling indicated today that it would not file such a request, meaning that same-sex couples likely will be able to obtain marriage licenses in Iowa in three weeks, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

So what do the defense of marriage folks do now?  Richard Kim has a long post on The Nation.com in which he outlines the options and discusses some of the larger political implications. 

So now that the Iowa Supreme Court has essentially legalized gay marriage, what’s next? Some right-wingers (like Iowa Congressman Steve King and William Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation) are already promising to put a defense of marriage amendment in front of Iowa voters. But they have a long road ahead of them. Iowa law says that a constitutional ammendment must pass TWO consecutive sessions of the state legislature before it appears on a ballot. So the earliest one could see a DOMA on the ballot is 2011, but with Democrats in control of both houses and with both the House speaker and the Senate majority leader on record supporting the decision–there’s virtually no chance that such an amendment would even come up for a vote this session.

That leaves the right-wing with a daunting task: defeat enough Democrats to take control of both houses (Dems currently enjoy a 56-44 and 32-18 advantage), replace them with Christian right Republicans who are willing to champion a marriage amendement and peel off enough remaining Democrats (to offset any moderate GOP defectors) to squeeze through four rounds of yes votes. Only then will they even have the chance to put the issue in front of voters–sometime in 2013 or 2014 if all the stars align. Then, they still have to win that campaign in a political climate in which increasing numbers of voters support gay rights. Oh yeah, and the vote will take place after Iowans have witnessed 5-6 years of ho-hum same-sex nuptials of which the most radical, earth-shaking element is that one of the grooms is a 50-year old church organist named Otter Dreaming (one of the named appellees in the Iowa decision). As Ari Berman points out, Iowa isn’t exactly the hotbed of culture war antagonism–despite being square one for GOP presidential wrangling–so my strong hunch is that Mr. Dreaming’s marriage will endure at least any legal and political challenges.

It doesn’t seem very likely that Iowa will amend it’s Constitution.  Here in Massachusetts it didn’t take long for gay marriage to just become marriage.  Just read Andrew Sullivans story about his Massachusetts wedding.

Born in a different era, I reached that conclusion through more pain and fear and self-loathing than my 20-something fellow homosexuals do today. But it was always clear to me nonetheless. It just never fully came home to me until I too got married.

It happened first when we told our families and friends of our intentions. Suddenly, they had a vocabulary to describe and understand our relationship. I was no longer my partner’s “friend” or “boyfriend”; I was his fiancé. Suddenly, everyone involved themselves in our love. They asked how I had proposed; they inquired when the wedding would be; my straight friends made jokes about marriage that simply included me as one of them. At that first post-engagement Christmas with my in-laws, I felt something shift. They had always been welcoming and supportive. But now I was family. I felt an end—a sudden, fateful end—to an emotional displacement I had experienced since childhood.

The wedding occurred last August in Massachusetts in front of a small group of family and close friends. And in that group, I suddenly realized, it was the heterosexuals who knew what to do, who guided the gay couple and our friends into the rituals and rites of family. Ours was not, we realized, a different institution, after all, and we were not different kinds of people. In the doing of it, it was the same as my sister’s wedding and we were the same as my sister and brother-in-law. The strange, bewildering emotions of the moment, the cake and reception, the distracted children and weeping mothers, the morning’s butterflies and the night’s drunkenness: this was not a gay marriage; it was a marriage.

And our families instantly and for the first time since our early childhood became not just institutions in which we were included, but institutions that we too owned and perpetuated. My sister spoke of her marriage as if it were interchangeable with my own, and my niece and nephew had no qualms in referring to my husband as their new uncle. The embossed invitations and the floral bouquets and the fear of fluffing our vows: in these tiny, bonding gestures of integration, we all came to see an alienating distinction become a unifying difference.

It was a moment that shifted a sense of our own identity within our psyches and even our souls. Once this happens, the law eventually follows. In California this spring, it did.

So I think Richard Kim is right.  Iowans are soon going to find gay marriages just as ordinary as straight ones.  So what is left for the opposition?  Here’s Richard Kim again

So, here’s my guess as to what the right can and will do. They’ll move to amend Iowa’s marriage law so that it requires in-state residency. Currently, Iowa (like California and unlike Massachusetts) does not have any such restriction (prompting claims that Iowa will become the Mecca of gay marriage). Of course, because of the court’s equal protection ruling, any such change will have to apply to both gay and straight couples, but the collateral benefit for the right would be in limiting the number of gay couples who can marry in Iowa and then sue in other states. But after thousands of out-of-state couples got married in CA and will likely stay married no matter how the CA Supreme Court rules on Prop 8’s broader legality–there’s not much use in raising this hurdle.

So, Iowa, Massachusetts welcomes you to the club.  I don’t think it will be too long before there are more than three members.

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