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This blog is the brainchild of the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice at the University of Iowa College of Law. It is intended as a forum for people to discuss their personal views concerning topical issues. Posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the Board or the Student Writers as a whole. We encourage well-rounded debates and discussions.
Christine Boeckholt, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
There are some historical events that are so momentous, you always remember where you were when you found out about them. I’ll always remembering being on vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks when Princess Diana died; being in first period pre-calculus when Sean Vick called his house to ask his mom to bring the lunch he forgot and finding out about 9/11; driving down the street in Ann Arbor and hearing people screaming in their houses and watching them pour into the street and around my car because the media had called the 2008 presidential election for Barack Obama. Another of these moments for me was when the Iowa Supreme Court handed down Varnum v. Brien , the decision legalizing gay marriage in Iowa – I was stealthily watching the One Iowa press conference at my office job in Michigan and trying to contain my excitement .
I was fairly resolute about coming back to Iowa after moving away after college, as I appreciate the State of Iowa’s ability to fill pot holes and drivers’ general avoidance of creating gridlock (ahem, Ann Arborites…you are the worst about this, and you know it!) Varnum v. Brien was just the icing on the cake because I knew I was coming back to a place that believed in what I believed in and that I could be proud of for its stand.
The political climate in Iowa has undergone a shift since I returned in May of 2009. The November 2010 election brought in a Republican governor, a Republican House, and the people of Iowa voted not to retain three of the Iowa Supreme Court justices because of the Varnum decision.
This week, the Republicans in the House of Representatives announced that they would be introducing a resolution to amend the Iowa constitution to ban same-sex marriages and also domestic partnerships and civil unions. The resolution will state, “Marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only legal union valid or recognized in this state.” This bill would go beyond overturning Varnum and would deny all civil rights to anyone besides married heterosexual couples. And it seems that that is the point: Representative Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, was quoted in the Des Moines Register saying, “’I think the biggest issue is that if that (a same-sex marriage ban) is carried forward, and then Iowa does civil unions and recognizes that as a substitute status, then, from what I’ve seen in other states,’ people would come to consider same-sex civil unions as equal to marriage.” Essentially, to these Iowa House Republicans, it is not enough to take away marriage from same-sex couples – they also have to take away any semblance of equal rights that these couples might enjoy in Iowa.
It’s not that I think the House Republicans will actually be able to lead the charge to change the Iowa Constitution – I do not. The Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has already said he’ll block the action in the Senate. Even if it did manage to pass the Senate, the process for amending the Iowa Constitution does not end there. The resolution has to pass both houses again in the next legislative session and go to a popular vote in the next general election. I do not think the amendment could get the necessary majority of the popular vote. I know that those who oppose gay marriage have already won a popular vote in ousting the Iowa Supreme Court judges, but since that election, many have come out to say they did not take the threat seriously enough. If it comes to the point of there being a popular vote, I believe there will be increased mobilization for those who support the Varnum decision and same-sex marriage in Iowa.
I love Iowa and I’ll always consider it my home. Actions such as these make me sad and disappointed that this great state might come to be known for a legacy of intolerance rather than one of valuing the civil rights of its citizens.
Brad Biren, Student Writer, The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice
After last Tuesday, few people would consider Election Day a victory for gender equality. Yet, unbeknownst to those glued to CNN or Fox News, over 106 (of 164) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender candidates won last week. How did so many out LGBT candidates win election, and yet we lost the House of Representatives? As Lisa Neff, a columnist for 365gay.com, wrote in an October 25th article, LGBT Americans are realizing the importance of local elections. Local elections include positions such as school board members, county supervisors, mayors, and state legislators. These positions wield great power within the local community and often have equal or greater impact on the lives of their LGBT constituents.
–David Cicilline’s election to Congress. The Providence, R.I. mayor will be the fourth openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives, joining Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Barney Frank and Jared Polis, who each won reelection.
–Jim Gray’s election as mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, the state’s second-largest city.
–Nickie Antonio’s election to the Ohio House. Antonio will be the first openly LGBT person to serve in the state legislature.
–Marcus Brandon’s election to the North Carolina House. Brandon will be the state’s only openly gay state legislator and one of just five out African Americans to serve as state lawmakers.
–Victoria Kolakowski’s election as a Superior Court judge in Alameda County. Kolakowski becomes the first openly transgender judge in America.
–Kevin Lembo’s election as Connecticut State Comptroller. Lembo joins just a handful of openly LGBT candidates to have been elected to statewide positions.
–Laurie Jinkins’ election to the Washington State House. Jinkins is Washington’s first openly lesbian state legislator, and could help her gay colleagues pass a marriage equality bill in the next legislative session.
–Maryland’s and California’s expanded LGBT state legislative caucuses. Each will include seven openly gay and lesbian lawmakers. In Maryland, the caucus is poised to help pass marriage equality legislation, which the reelected Gov. Martin O’Malley has vowed to sign.
All this being said of course, many members of the Iowa community are still dumbfounded with the results of the judicial retention vote. How could three qualified members of the judiciary be voted out of office for exemplifying what the U.S. Constitution protects—the guaranty of impartiality in judicial decisions? Many of my colleagues at the College of Law have quoted and cited to Professor Todd Pettys, a constitutional scholar and beloved member of the faculty. In a November 4th article in the Des Moines Register, Professor Pettys said what many of us felt:
“I think these three ousted justices are going to be regarded in judicial circles as heroes,” Pettys said. “I think other justices are going to look at these three individuals and say, ‘Here are three individuals who took a very controversial stand, because it’s what they thought the law required. They stuck with what the law required, even when they knew they were going to be coming up for election.’”
But no professor can say something as poignant as a spouse. One month before the publication of this blogpost, I married my husband in a beautiful ceremony at a local winery surrounded by dear friends and family. The atmosphere was more than that of acceptance; it was of epiphany and understanding. Growing up in Algona, Iowa, my husband was bullied and afraid. Our wedding was the culmination of much progress both for ourselves and more importantly for our loved ones. The day was so perfect, he and I forgot about the controversy surrounding our love.
The night of the election, with his sullen face and Charlie Brown theme-song demeanor, he slumped into bed shell-shocked and dismayed. He turned and said, “They didn’t just vote out the judges, they voted us out too.” The retention vote was in many ways was the first public vote on our rights. My husband was hurt by the results of the vote, not because he didn’t expect it in many ways, but because it came on the heels of an event celebrating our love. He thought Iowa would rise to the occasion and do the right thing, as it has for so long.
His family has made enormous progress. They are a wonderful example of love and acceptance. They are the best of what Algona, Iowa and Kossuth County have to offer. They voted for us at our wedding and voted to retain the judges the day of the elections. In many ways, Iowa did rise to the occasion and will continue to do so. The judicial elections didn’t take away our right to vote and those judges will likely be replaced by judges who will decide the same way in the future.
There is still a great deal of progress to be made though. Last summer, on the way back home to Iowa City, we stopped in Britt, Iowa for gas and soda (not pop). I saw a woman with a “support traditional marriage” bumper sticker. I confronted the lady who was using her child as a human shield. I am from New York, raised in a house full of loud, obstinate Jewish women. My childhood taught me to face ignorance head on in order to “enlighten” the masses.
I laid my foundation—“is that your car with the bumper sticker?” I asked. She nodded and I asked her why my (then) fiancé and I were not worthy of equal rights. She replied because she “supports traditional marriage.” Long story short, she’s a close minded bigot who wishes all the best for me but wants me not to love or marry my husband. Hate the sin, but love, love, in fact, adore the sinner.
When I hear that basic argument, I think, as Justice Stevens recently put it, “tax the yarmulke, tax the Jew.” How can you be against the exercise of my one definable characteristic as a minority and tell me you love me? John Corvino, a professor at Wayne State University, asked this question in a recent editorial on 365gay.com (yes, go to it, it is a great source of logic). In his piece, Corvino remarked on the horrifying trend of Christian people commenting on the rash of gay suicides by using the following remark, “That’s terrible, but…”
But what? He pointed out that their response of denouncing violence and at the same time describing their contempt for the victims as the following: “They’re akin to saying that you are really concerned about feeding the starving, but first you want to make sure that they’re not going to burp at the dinner table.”
At this point, I should be livid and bristling with contempt, but that’s not the case at all. I started this blogpost with the good news. There were 106 reasons to celebrate last week. One state has its first openly gay black state representative; Johnson County, Iowa once again voted for Janelle Rettig, a lesbian, for County Supervisor; the first transgender Judge was voted into office; and Lexington Kentucky voted for an openly gay mayor. Kentucky voted for a gay. I feel optimistic when I read about things like that. As more and more openly gay candidates are voted into public office, it will be harder and harder for ignorance and bigotry to prevail.
As my silver-lining-seeking husband has started to say with cadence and efficiency, “It gets better.”
I couldn’t agree more :-)
For a further discussion of reactions to the judicial retention vote, see Student Writer Matt Hulstein’s earlier post, Cruelty and Recklessness: The Implications of the Iowa Judicial Retention Vote