Connecticut and Massachusetts, in all their liberal glory, bewildered few when they legalized same-sex marriage. The rest of the country practically expected it of them. California, too, was met with a collective, sarcastic “surprise, surprise” when they began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in May 2008. Even Vermont’s legislative stride toward marital equality this week was a long time coming. But at a time when states like Michigan and Pennsylvania maintain bans on gay marriage — and even California’s marriage policy is in legal flux — few expected that the American gay community would have friends in Iowa.
Last Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a District Court ruling that same-sex couples should have no legal barriers to marriage. Even more surprisingly, all seven state Supreme Court justices voted unanimously to uphold the ruling. In similar court cases in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the justices were split 4-3. Thus, on Apr. 3, in a historically overwhelming legal decision, Iowa became the only Midwestern state to repeal constitutional or statutory bans on gay marriage.
Politically speaking, that fact shouldn’t actually be so surprising. Democrats outnumber Republicans in both the state government and in Iowa’s delegation in Washington. And during the season of presidential primaries, it was Iowa’s sheer progressivism that led to President Barack Obama’s caucus victory and the momentum that carried him through to the general election.
Admittedly, it seems a little odd that a gay couple is more legally entitled in Des Moines than in, say, San Francisco, but Iowa’s ruling is a great leap in the right direction. Apart from the three states that allow gay marriage outright, only 12 states recognize or permit same-sex civil unions — and in the other 35, homosexuals who want to marry their life-partners are treated as second-class citizens.
California moved in a reverse direction last November when it passed Proposition 8, stripping LGBT Californians of their right to marry. The legality of that debate is currently being argued before the California Supreme Court, but the fact that the initiative even passed is a testament to the hatemongering of religious zealots and a handful of ignorant others.
According to CNN, 75 percent of Americans believe LGBT individuals should be entitled to equal rights for housing, employment and protection of the law. But despite this overall tolerance, 55 percent still oppose gay marriage. Some of that majority says marriage is defined between a man and a woman — a definition steeped in antiquated Christian thought. Sure, the United States is a nation founded on many Christian principles, but what has set America apart is its commitment toward separating the Bible from the Constitution.
Moreover, what has really killed the traditional definition of marriage is the enormous divorce rate of American couples — which is somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. Even if all committed same-sex couples got married, at 4 percent of the population, gays don’t pose as big a threat to marriage as divorce.
Other opponents say the point of marriage is to raise children, suggesting that same-sex households are unfit for child rearing. But the proper reaction should be: “Gee, thank you, gays and lesbians, for adopting the children we don’t want, loving them and taking the burden off the government.” To be sure, growing up with two moms or dads may not be normal for children who developmentally crave to be like everyone else, but it’s a lot better than growing up without anyone. In order for children to grow into normal, emotionally strong adults, they don’t need the conventional father and mother. All they need is to be raised by parents who shower them with love. More than other parents, gay and lesbian parents can understand that because in order for them to come out of the closet, they needed to be surrounded by love, too. Here and across the board, opponents to gay marriage seem to ignore that they are merely fighting love.
Iowa’s recent stand should be a signal to the California Supreme Court that change is imminent and vital, illuminating that the only apparent "abomination" was the language and premise of Proposition 8. And most importantly, the ruling should act as a sort of refresh button for the national perspective on gay rights. Just as Iowa gave Obama the needed momentum to win the Democratic nomination, the state’s support of gay rights will hopefully stimulate a new tolerance that finally grants much-overdue equal rights.
Matthew Green can be reached at email@example.com.