Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
Vintage Shawn and Maureen, 1992
This Friday, April 2 my friends Shawn and Maureen – two upstanding Iowa lesbians – will be tying the knot. Saturday, April 3 happens to be the one-year anniversary of the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruling the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. I was giddy when Maureen spilled the beans but it didn’t take long to catch on to the serious nature of her emails and the tone of her voice. This wasn’t going to be a completely joyous occasion.
The run up to the wedding day has been a mix of emotions for Maureen and Shawn. There was the painstaking composition and multiple revisions of the wedding invitation. How would they announce their marriage to potentially unsupportive family and friends (whom Maureen and Shawn continue to love despite their negative views of same-sex marriage)?
They are having a private, family only wedding in their home even though Shawn and Maureen, both Christians, belong to a church in their own back yard. Their pastor unable – due to the guidelines of the church – to perform the ceremony helped them find a clergyman who could one county over.
Although they have lived as partners for over 18 years (raising four kids between them) in their community, they were too afraid to apply for a marriage license in county. A conservative streak runs through their hometown with a large church and right-leaning newspaper seemingly the sum total of political commentary available. Since marriage licenses are entered into the public record, they decided to file in a neighboring county.
Shawn was in knots during the short ride to Tama County – she was nervous, Maureen told me – having thoughts like what will the clerk say – how will they treat us – will they turn us away? Maureen didn’t admit to being worried, though I suppose focusing on keeping Shawn in her own skin made it easier to stay in hers.
Thinking back, the biggest concerns I had when planning my wedding in Iowa last year were – chicken or roast beef? and – what beer to serve? The only time my stomach was in knots was when dad had to hightail it back to the house to fetch my forgotten bouquet moments before Here Comes The Bride.
The President of the Iowa Family Policy Center lays it out
In Iowa and around the country some people argue that homosexuality doesn’t qualify for the protections afforded by the Constitution and claim same-sex marriage isn’t a civil rights issue. Bryan English, the Communications Director of the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC), is one of those people.
The IFPC is the biggest anti-gay PAC and Christian “pro-family” advocacy group operating in Iowa. With ties to the Family Research Council, Ralph Reed and the National Organization for Marriage, they bring a well-funded punch to the fight against gay rights in Iowa.
It is also being reported that the IFPC received funding through the federal Faith Based Initiatives program. Despite the Iowa Family Policy Council’s apparent violation of the no proselytizing requirement to receive funding, they continue to use $3 million of taxpayer money to advance their anti-gay agenda. (Stay tuned for more information on this.)
Regarding the overturning of an unconstitutional law by the Iowa Supreme court to allow same-sex marriage, Mr. English told me the court overstepped their bounds, “They [the Iowa Supreme Court] have no lawmaking ability,” and “That’s why we want an amendment for the people to vote, we don’t want the courts creating more laws.”
He made IFPC’s position clear: no gay marriage, no civil unions, let the people vote. I asked how it’s possible to vote on another human being’s civil rights – like women’s suffrage and the rights of African-Americans. He said my analogies to “real civil rights movements” was essentially disrespectful to the people who waged those hard-fought battles.
Mr. English told me a civil right is something you can see. As an example – you can see gender, a man a woman, an African-American or other non-white person – you can’t see gay. I assumed he had never seen a picture of Boy George.
English says, “This isn’t a civil rights issue it [homosexuality] is a choice in behavior and as a Christian organization we don’t believe this is a right, it is a sin against Jesus Christ.” Summarizing his thoughts, Bryan offers, “Their [gays] behavior first and foremost is inherently sinful.”
He went on to say that same-sex marriage will promote, “Sinful activities,” and “To take something sinful and make it legal keeps people from Jesus Christ, and if it [gay marriage] stands it will make it’s way into the rest of society.”
Mr. English seems to be particularly concerned with Iowa’s school children being exposed to gay people saying, “Promoting gay behavior, teens will choose that lifestyle, make poor choices and become more susceptible to STDs.”
It was somewhere around that comment I thanked Mr. English for his time.
Maureen and Shawn were working on the reception menu. Shawn, concerned asked – will we have enough food? Maureen laughed her infectious laugh when she told me this and said, “I reminded her – Shawn, I work in food service – we will be fine!”
As the RSVP deadline finally came allowing them to finalize the food count, Maureen wanted to share a note from a friend RSVP’ing “no” (spelling and grammatical errors original to note):
Maureen, you know that I love you and consider you a dear friend. Also, I need to share with you that due to what I believe the Bible says, I just can’t congratulate you on what you are about to do. I am commited to love you, but I can’t agree with you about something I believe the Bible holds sacred between a man and woman. I can give you scripture that has nothing to do with whether or not God loves you. Of course, He does. He loves all of His creation, but He has set boundaries that produce consequences should we choose to do it our way. I hope this will not hinder our friendship, but I can not attend this event in your life. I really wonder if you have stuidied this in the Word of God to see what He thinks. It really is not imp’t what I think but what He thinks is right and holy is what we should follow. I believe you would agree with that, right? You see, I could choose to love another man and that would not be right either. God has just said “yes” to some things and “no” to other things. His Word says, “That if I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me (my prayers)”. Sin is when we willfully break one of God’s laws. I know I fall short and am not perfect so I do not sit in judgment of you, only that you prayerfully consider what He says about your choice. I love you, unconditionally and He does too but there are consequences to choices we make. They can be far-reaching to our children or grchildren. I will continue to keep you in my prayers. PLEASE let’s keep our friendship imp’t…ok?
Justin Uebelhor, Communications Director for One Iowa, the leading LGBT civil rights group in the state, is happy about a recent Des Moines Register poll showing that support of gay marriage has grown in the year since the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Since the ruling last year, we see a trend toward acceptance,” he tells me during our phone conversation. According to the poll, Justin says Iowans’ concern over gay marriage ranks somewhere below texting while driving.
One Iowa TV spot supporting the Supreme Court ruling
One Iowa’s support was crucial when Lambda Legal brought the lawsuit on behalf of six gay couples that led to overturning the same-sex ban in Iowa. They put together a compelling video interviewing and spending time with the six couples and their families in the run up to the hearing that is worth viewing even after the ban was overturned.
Justin tells me “Massachusetts is 5 years out from their ruling with public opinion trending toward more and more support for it [gay marriage] and we see that same trend in Iowa.”
The further Iowa gets out from the April 2009 ruling, the better chance same-sex marriage has of surviving any attempt to put an anti-gay amendment on the ballot. Iowans want their legislators spending time on the economic crisis and finding ways to create jobs to drive the Iowa economy, not on laws that shame the constitution.
I asked Mr. Uebelhor if he has any concerns about Ralph Reed’s recent trip to Iowa to rally support for Republicans running for state office. Reed was the director of the right-wing Christian Coalition in the 1990’s. After a fall from grace snuggling up with Jack Abramoff, Reed seems to be making a comeback stopping through Iowa along the way.
Uebelhor is concerned, “When we see Reed asking for $500,000 to start an election program in Iowa like the one he started in New Jersey to defeat Corzine, we have to worry. Reed makes a habit of supporting anti-gay legislative candidates, and we have to make sure we get support and funding for our side.”
The good news for same-sex marriage and One Iowa is that there are a lot of good legislators on their side. Justin is quick to praise those members of the congress who have “stuck their neck out” for same-sex marriage.
“Speaker of the House Pat Murphy and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal have taken their share of heat but have been very strong in supporting their decision [supporting same-sex marriage] with a joint statement throwing support behind the Supreme Court ruling and by asking everyone ‘what took so long?’”
In phone conversations over the last few weeks with Maureen talking about the wedding and this piece, I almost asked her a question I would never dream of asking my straight friends: why did you decide to get married?
The answer should be obvious: because they love each other, of course.
Shawn & Maureen, 2009
Sources, information, more reading:
KCCI TV Iowa 2000 Poll released this past February shows Iowa voters lining up like this when it comes to gay marriage: Favoring an amendment to overturn current law allowing same-sex marriage in Iowa: All polled – 39% favor an anti-gay marriage amendment, 42% disagree with an anti-gay marriage amendment and 19% of all polled are unsure.
The same sample were then asked – regardless of their opinions on same-sex marriage – if they favor or oppose allowing same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexuals, the numbers were even more clear: 51% of respondents agree that same-sex couples should be afforded the same benefits as heterosexual couples, 40% oppose equal treatment, and 9% remain unsure.