Suddenly, California’s outcry over Prop 8 seems like such a long time ago. Because where we least expected it, Iowa, a piece of the American heartland, has become the next state to grant equality to Gay and Lesbian Americans. Now three states require full marriage rights for gays, and Vermont is on the brink of becoming the first state where gay marriage would be made legal by lawmakers, rather than the courts — a significant milestone. The Vermont House passed a law allowing gay marriage on Friday, and the Senate is expected to follow suit on Monday. Gov. Jim Douglas has promised to veto it, but an override fight will quickly follow, probably by next week. Progress still.
When the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that gays can marry in the Hawkeye State, gay marriage became not just a coastal thing. Deep in the rural heartland, a straightforward opinion — written by a justice appointed by a conservative Republican governor — methodically eviscerates one argument after another that for decades has been used to keep marriage the sole preserve of straight couples. "This class of people asks a simple and direct question: How can a state premised on the constitutional principle of equal protection justify exclusion of a class of Iowans from civil marriage?" Justice Mark S. Cady asked. The answer? It can't.
While the Court certainly addressed core constitutional principles and equal protection analysis through strict scrutiny, (the Iowa decision cited the California case eight times and borrowed its reasoning again and again) it did something the California court did not do. Iowa went the extra mile and set aside a rebuke in their opinion to the Christian fundamentalists directly:
“State government can have no religious views, either directly or indirectly, expressed through its legislation. This proposition is the essence of the separation of church and state. As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all.” [page 66]
As the United States Supreme Court did in Lawrence v. Texas, its seminal 2003 ruling striking down sodomy laws, the Iowa court said that mere moral opprobrium or deeply held values are not enough to warrant legal sanctions or the denial of legal rights.
After Proposition 8 was passed, my brothers and sisters in California were despondent. This courageous and learned Iowa Court keeps us buoyant. Last year's ruling by the California Supreme Court issued a broad new justification for gay marriage — the Republican-dominated court declared forcefully that California may not discriminate against gays in any way, giving the ruling more legal force and sweep than any decision of its kind ever has. Thousands of couples flocked to clerk's offices to be wed. But months later, in November, however, that jubilation turned sour, when Californians voted to change the constitution to forbid gay marriage.
We here in California certainly know how Christian, and particularly, Mormon fundamentalists, can strategize and organize successfully – even if it is just on a singular issue, in their never-ending quest to make America a total theocratic Christendom while lying, cheating, and obfuscating any issue to get to that goal.
Remember in 2004, with a generous wink wink from the Rove Administration, many activists mocked the Judiciary in general, and the Massachusetts Supreme Court in particular, when Mass. ruled that the state had no legislative rationale to exclude gays from civil marriage. Denigration of local, state, and federal judges by Conservatives who didn’t toe their line were quickly called “activist judges” and it soon became the political trend. It was another shameful practice started by Bush bullies to demonize gays through the courts, in order to galvanize political support by among perhaps the dumbest segment of the electorate – “cultural conservatives,” and too many in the evangelical movement. All along, these judges who did not side with cultural conservatives because they judiciously analyzed constitutional or human fairness issues in deciding cases – were publicly stoned.
So it is refreshing that the Iowa court, in its intellectual affirmation for civility and fairness, said enough is enough.
But how do we stand in Iowa post April 4. Iowan gays and lesbians can breathe easier because unlike California, the process of a constitutional amendment process is a lengthy one — the constitution can't be amended by a simple vote of the people. Both houses of the legislature must approve it, and most legal experts agree that the process could be put before voters no sooner than 2012. But as it stands the political support in the legislature is weak, at least for now.
Unfortunately, we know too well how Christian zealots work. Bur at least Iowa jurists told them in no short order, theocrats need not apply.