Staff Columnist

Ten years later, marriage equality is part of Iowa's fabric

A rally in celebration of Friday's Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding a lower court decision legalizing same sex marriage is held at the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2009.



(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A rally in celebration of Friday's Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding a lower court decision legalizing same sex marriage is held at the Pentacrest in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2009. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

So it was 10 years ago this week that the Iowa Supreme Court struck down Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage. With our current news cycle so jammed with distractions, I nearly forgot.

And that’s fitting, I suppose, considering how marriage equality has steadily been sewn into the fabric of Iowa over the last 10 years. We’ve gone from the jubilant jolt of April 3, 2009, through overheated political backlash and on to the sort of normalcy that can slip by unnoticed.

But it’s well worth remembering that day, when equality supporters raced out of the Judicial Building waving copies of the landmark 7-0 Varnum ruling over their heads in the bright morning sunshine.

For gay and lesbian Iowans who fought for years to stand proudly on equal footing with their fellow citizens, the ruling was a victory almost beyond belief. At that point, only Massachusetts and Connecticut recognized same-sex marriages. Now, suddenly, equality had a Midwest foothold.

And opponents vowed to take it all away.

“Our worst fears have been realized,” said U.S. Rep. Steve King, noted expert on fear, predicting Iowa would become the “Las Vegas of same-sex marriages.” Iowa Catholic leaders insisted the ruling would “grievously harm families and children,” and weaken “the critical relationship between marriage and parenting.” One pastor called the decision a disaster akin to the floods of 2008.

Photos from celebrations that day

It was 10 years ago - on April 3, 2009 - that the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

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Actually, what happened was thousands of Iowans got married. Civilization did not crumble. Marriage wasn’t undermined or damaged, it was expanded and rejuvenated. Families were strengthened.

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The only real problems spawned by the ruling came from the purveyors of righteous doom themselves, who pursued a vendetta against the state’s court system continuing to this day. In 2010, they led the dishonest drive to oust three justices from the Supreme Court. In 2019, they’re demanding changes to the way we pick judges, hoping for a court that would never deliver another Varnum.

So it may be that this anniversary also is somewhat muted by discouragement over our Trumpian times and trying trifecta at the Statehouse. Even a decade of progress seems shaky in the midst of such tumult and uncertainty. But at least in Iowa, I take heart in the trajectory I’ve witnessed.

It was 30 years ago last week that the Iowa House voted 57-41 to add sexual orientation to the state’s civil rights code. Even though the bill died in the Senate, it was, in its time, a remarkable stand for civil rights. It put the issue of equality front and center in Iowa.

And it was 15 years ago last month that a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages was defeated in the Republican-controlled Iowa Senate, thanks to four Republicans who voted no — Mary Lundby, Maggie Tinsman, Don Redfern and Doug Shull.

If the amendment had passed and gone on to be approved by voters, a big if, admittedly, there may have been no landmark Iowa ruling. And without that Midwest foothold, I think the march toward the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling for marriage equality might have been slowed.

Instead, history was made, and Iowa played a large, loud role. It’s worth celebrating, even quietly.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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