July 6, 2012
By Jacob Combs
When it comes to the states in America that have extended equal marriage rights to gay couples, there’s a clear geographic pattern: with Washington and Maryland’s marriage laws pending this year, all the states that currently provide marriage equality are the East Coast. All the states, that is, except for one: Iowa, the clear outlier, a politically purple, mid-Western state where marriage equality was legalized by a unanimous decision of the Iowa Supreme Court in April 2009.
Since that decision, social conservatives in the state have steadfastly attempted to roll back equality advocates’ progress, with some success: in 2010, three Supreme Court justices who participated in the court ruling were voted out of office after a massive campaign against them by opponents of marriage equality such as the National Organization for Marriage. But as an AP article from yesterday shows, even the most ardent foes of marriage equality are beginning to question the likelihood of success in an unexpectedly positive state for equal marriage rights.
Since 2010, Iowa conservatives have had their eyes on the ultimate electoral prize in 2012: if Republicans win two more seats in the state Senate, they would control both houses of the legislature and the governorship and could vote for a marriage law that would effectively nullify the judicial decision in favor of marriage equality. Mike Gronstal, Iowa’s Democratic Senate Majority Leader, has been a fierce defender of equal marriage rights, refusing to even allow debate on a repeal of marriage equality in his chamber.
But even if Republicans were to take over the Iowa Senate, they might face a tougher time of repealing equal marriage laws than previously thought. The legislative process to do so takes a minimum of two years, and public opinion in Iowa, as in the United States as a whole, is moving in the direction of stronger support for equal marriage: a February poll showed 56 percent of the state’s residents opposed an amendment against marriage equality.
“People are getting comfortable with it,” Susan Geddes, a conservative activist who worked in Iowa for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, told the AP, “and that’s a shame to tell you the truth.” She also said that internal polls in strongly conservative districts in the state show that less than 10 percent of Republican voters consider reversing marriage equality a high priority. Some Republican leaders have even started coming out in support of equal marriage rights.
The new reality in Iowa shows just how quickly support regarding marriage for gay and lesbian couples can shift: in 2010, three justices could be removed from office for the simple offense of doing their job; in 2012, as Chuck Laudner, who ran the campaign against the judges, put it, the anti-marriage equality movement has “lost a little of its zip,” with voters focused on other matters.
Even more so, Iowa demonstrates that marriage equality gains do essentially have some degree of staying power, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Once people see their gay and lesbian friends and neighbors being provided the same rights and responsibilities as their straight counterparts (and as the dire predictions of societal decline made by anti-marriage activists fail to come true), hearts and minds change. When Republicans had majorities in both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature, a bill to repeal marriage equality in the state came up short. Iowa could very well go down the same road in the next few years.