Examining the impact of Iowa’s historic ruling

The unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage has thrust the LGBT community once again into the media spotlight, both statewide and nationwide. From Perez Hilton to Chet Culver, a plethora of politicians and celebrities alike have voiced their opinions on the ruling. This is no different at the local level, as both pro- and anti-gay marriage individuals and groups are speaking out on the topic. The majority of the discussion has focused on what the future holds for same-sex marriage. The ruling has electrified the supporters of the legalization of same-sex marriage. "This certainly gives [the LGBT community and its allies] a lot of hope," said senior Caitlin Lawrence, president of Spectrum (Ames High’s gay-straight alliance). "Not only is it another state allowing same-sex marriage, it’s a Midwestern state allowing same-sex marriage. Our region is traditionally viewed as ‘conservative,’ and this shows the nation that we can be progressive." A major issue in the LGBT community today is its "acceptability" in the mainstream media and national public opinion. Self-described "Progressive Populist," Lynn Fallon (wife of former state representative, 2006 gubernatorial and 2008 Congressional candidate Ed Fallon) of the Des Moines-based group I’M for Iowa thinks that "the Supreme Court decision will help because it is forcing the issue of equality and justice for the LGBT community. Gays and lesbians are beginning to tell their stories, and as this continues and grows, and as people connect with them, we truly believe the majority will eventually accept marriage as a civil right for all." Fallon draws a parallel to the once-controversial 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ( Loving v. Virginia ) allowing interracial marriage: "When [the ruling] was first rendered, 70% of the public was against it. Yet today, we think nothing of it. We believe, eventually, same sex marriage will be the same." Another topic raised by the April 3 ruling-perhaps more at the national level than in Iowa-is whether it will set in motion a sort of "chain reaction" in the judiciaries of other states to allow same-sex marriage. Only four days after the Iowa ruling, the Vermont legislature overrode its governor’s veto on a bill allowing same-sex marriage, passing it into law and becoming the fourth state to do so. Proponents of same-sex marriage hope and opponents of it fear that more states will follow suit; Fallon points to the YouTube video "There’s A Storm Coming" as evidence of the latter. But she indicates that the opposition, in her opinion mainly composed of the Religious Right, is losing momentum: "Because other states are also coming on board…hopefully the opposition’s resources will be limited." With this in mind, is the fight for public opinion a matter of money and material resources? California is a good example-or warning-of what may come in Iowa. In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that any law-including those concerning marriage-that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation "should be subjected to strict scrutiny" and that, in particular, the same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional in that it violated the rights of same-sex couples, and shortly thereafter, all couples were allowed to marry. However, state opposition groups gathered enough signatures on a petition to warrant a statewide vote, known as Proposition 8, on the banning of same-sex marriages. At first, opinion polls seemed to show a clear majority for the upholding of the ruling, and celebs from Brad Pitt to Ellen DeGeneres to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger himself publicly donated both time and money to the "No on 8" campaign. But slowly, the tide shifted to support of the proposition, and it passed at the polls, banning gay marriage statewide. A large share of the change can certainly be attributed to the heavy advertising and grassroots campaigns supported by Religious Right groups and churches-particularly the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). Scare tactics, viral videos and TV commercials, billboards and rallies championed the "Yes on 8" cause. Could this happen in our state? Fallon certainly sees it as a possibility, and lists religious groups as the main concern of the progressives looking to uphold the ruling. "We’re not so naive as to think they won’t have significant resources to work with," she said. "Religious zeal and fervor are powerful motivators and charismatic leaders are often able to get significant financial contributions if they can whip the masses into a frenzy." Is religion the main source of opposition here? Fallon says that opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage is both a religious and a generational conflict. "There seem to be a few distinctly different approaches to the LGBT community," she said. "The younger generations appear to accept the community with little or no problems. Those who are more progressive in the older generations also seem willing to live and let live and understand that sexual orientation is a characteristic, not a choice. However, the Religious Right is the most outspoken and the most vehemently opposed to civil rights of any kind for the LGBT community. Also, some older Iowans, like some older Americans, may simply be against this because it’s different from what they perceive to be ‘normal.’" How do members of the Mormon church feel about the ruling and the possibility of a LDS-led opposition movement? Senior Nora Lippolis, a Mormon, thinks that not all church members are opposed to the ruling, and the "small Mormon population of the Midwest" will probably prevent any massive outbreak of protests. "I’m happy about [the decision]," she said. "I know that there are people in my faith who….aren’t thrilled, to say the least. And I feel there are legitimate reasons to their views. But I don’t completely agree with all of them, and our [central religious administration] does not require us to hold or act upon any of the specific views that it holds. So, I wouldn’t expect a protest led by the LDS church, but rather, if anything happens, it will be encouraged by the church." This lack of unity in opposition seems to be a key theme. "We’re not certain if the Mormons, or any other group, for that matter, will come to town," said Fallon, "but there are enough local Religious Right folks to make things interesting here in Iowa." So, with all of these things in mind, what’s next? Legally, the ruling can really not be voted on by the general public for a few years, and governor Chet Culver has officially declared his refusals to allow a vote or other actions on the reversal of the ruling, despite his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, a move that Fallon and company are applauding . "We’re grateful that Gov. Culver is standing on the right side of this issue," Fallon said. "We had hoped for an immediate, supportive response when the decision was first rendered, but he did eventually provide a statement that allowed him to retain his personal beliefs and to speak in support of the judicial decision." As for the fate of gay-rights groups such as Spectrum in a future with same-sex marriage, it seems unsure. Fallon thinks such groups may remain in a different form: "Maybe it will be the same people working together, but on different issues and without the need to be recognized by their sexuality," she said. "I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense, but I hope that we find ourselves working, shoulder to shoulder, with whoever it is that is as passionate about the issues as we are."