Even though the news is a bit old now, I wanted to post in commemoration of 2 more U.S. states gaining same-sex marriage.  For those who haven’t heard the news:

  • On April 3, the Iowa Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a state law limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman.  The ruling means that any 2 consenting adults can get married in the state, provided they meet the other usual criteria that the state sets.
  • The following week, the Vermont legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto, enacting a law that made same-sex marriage legal.

In the span of a week, the number of states allowing same-sex couples to marry doubled (Massachusetts and Connecticut already were allowing such marriages, in both cases as a result of legal rulings similar to Iowa’s).  Vermont is unique so far in achieving the goal legislatively, and I must admit I am encouraged by seeing a state reach marriage equality through the democratic process.  I think public opinion in a lot of places in the country is shifting towards acceptance of LGBT people, including in the arena of marriage, and this is both a reflection of that opinion (in Vermont), and something that can help influence opinion in other states (perhaps showing that “gay marriage,” as it’s often imprecisely termed, won’t cause the apocalypse, and might actually strengthen the fabric of society).

Having said that, it is the Iowa result that I find more surprising, and exciting, and about which I worry more.  I lived in Iowa for 4 years, and I experienced the climate for the LGBT community there.  At that time, about a decade ago, people were still working on trying to prevent job and other discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Such protections were in place in a couple of cities, but not statewide.  I helped with an effort to get the city of Cedar Falls to add sexual orientation to its human rights law, and the city council ended up voting the change down 6 to 1 (with some council members who had seemed favorable to the change being swayed the other way by their constituents).  The governor at the time, Tom Vilsack, issued an executive order to grant health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state employees, and the legislature passed a law to rescind the benefits (fortunately not by a veto-proof majority).

Many Iowans may have become more comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage, but opinion polls seems to indicate that the majority of residents still object to it.  It’s wonderful that people will now be able to marry whomever they want in the state, but I worry about whether this will last.  We saw what happened last year in California – the supreme court there declared that it was unconstitutional to prevent same-sex couples from marrying, and then the constitution ended up getting amended to prevent those marriages.  At least one thing is in equal marriage’s favor in Iowa compared with the situation in California: in California it is much easier (almost ridiculously easy) to amend the constitution.  A sufficient number of signatures needs to be collected to put the amendment on an election ballot, and then a simple majority of voters must support the ballot measure at the polls.  In terms of process, Iowa is better compared with Massachusetts.

In both Iowa and Mass., a constitutional amendment has to be proposed in and passed by the legislature, and then passed again by the next session of the legislature, before it can go on a ballot.  In the case of Massachusetts, there was an attempt to amend after the court ruling, and enough signatures were collected that the legislature was forced to consider the amendment proposal.  A constitutional convention was held, and the measure did get passed on for consideration by the next legislature, but then in that session it didn’t get enough votes to go on to a referendum.  Our good state representatives (and senators) stopped the amendment in its tracks.  I do not think this is as likely to happen in Iowa.  I would expect that Iowa lawmakers are still conservative enough, or will be swayed enough by pressure from their conservative constituents, that an amendment will end up on the ballot.  Then we’ll get to see how Iowa voters really feel about the issue.

The good news is that the process won’t bring anything to Iowa voters for another 3 years.  That’s 3 years in which public opinion could possibly be influenced in a more favorable direction.  There will certainly be organized efforts to influence that vote long before it happens, and, hopefully, a plethora of newly married couples will be able to demonstrate to their neighbors that the court decision was just and right.