Friday, April 3, 2009

Iowa Supreme Court backs equal marriage

The Iowa Supreme Court today issued a unanimous ruling finding that the state's same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples.

Same-sex couples in Iowa will be able to obtain marriage licenses starting April 24th. Iowa now becomes the third American state where gays and lesbians are no longer second class citizens.

Richard Socarides, an attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights to President Clinton, said the ruling carries extra significance coming from Iowa.

"It's a big win because, coming from Iowa, it represents the mainstreaming of gay marriage. And it shows that despite attempts stop gay marriage through right wing ballot initiatives, like in California, the courts will continue to support the case for equal rights for gays," he said. “Unlike states on the coasts, there’s nothing more American than Iowa. As they say during the presidential caucuses, ‘As Iowa goes, so goes the nation.’”

I'd like to think that today's ruling will start a trend similar to the remarkable victory in January 2008 for then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Before Iowa, few gave the first-term Senator from Illinois much hope of winning the U.S. presidency. But Iowa showed that his message of hope and change could resonate outside of traditional Democratic strongholds.

Perhaps those Americans (and others) sitting on the fence on this issue will continue to reflect and come sooner to agree that unjustifiable discrimination in law is never a good thing. Before various court victories in Canada on equal marriage, Canadians seemed generally divided on the merits of equal marriage. Years later, there's a new consensus that equality under the law trumps all other positions.

As with all gay civil rights victories, we can likely expect considerable backlash from the religious right over this issue. I'm not sure if Iowa has a similar ballot initiative process as California and other states, but when those pesky equality provisions in state constitutions get in the way of keeping those gays down in the gutter, so-called religious types will move heaven and earth to "re-define" equality in such constitutions to mean "heterosexual equality only."

Decades from now, we'll be watching as voters in U.S. state after U.S. state repeal those anti-equality provisions in state constitutions passed in these times. But for now, the culture war continues. It's nice to win a major battle.

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