Shawn & Maureen get married: Iowa’s one year gay-marriage anniversary


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.

9 thoughts on “Shawn & Maureen get married: Iowa’s one year gay-marriage anniversary

  1. kitty says:

    Congratulations on a beautiful and poignant article. My congratulations to Shawn and Maureen, as well. I fully support the rights of my gay brothers and sisters in this country to be legally married, affording all the rights as heterosexual couples. To deny this right is bigoted and theocratic. Beyond that, it is hateful to deny this right of equality.

    Living in Ohio, I am ashamed to say we have a constitutional amendment (dating from the first selection of W for president) which declares marriage as between a man and woman only. What a crock. I spoke out, admonishing my fellow Ohioans in the newspaper, and my senator, Sherrod Brown, send me a personal letter thanking me and asking me to keep speaking out. So the time is past due for us to challenge our own amendment.

    Keep speaking the truth. Let us not let the bigots have their way with us!

  2. Mark says:

    I found this through One Iowa, and it made my day! Reading that RSVP they received made me furious though. I would have responded to it with something like this:

    I consider you a dear friend, but I can not accept your sinful behavior either. By choosing to eat shellfish and wear clothing made of different kinds of fibers you are going against God’s word. I therefore will not go to Red Lobster with you or talk to you if you insist on wearing polyester blend t-shirts. I hope we can still be friends despite your shortcomings.

    Congrats on the wedding!

    1. Dina says:

      that’s a very good point Mark. Unfortunately, when ppl are narrow-minded, they only see what fits into their point of view. They probably wouldn’t even understand your point.
      but it made me smile
      right on!

  3. ron says:

    hello, I think marks comment is the kind of general (gods law is gone under grace statement) that is the bases of many questionable at least , stands on issues such as these. This has been a constant wonder to me how gays are really feeling OK with God the father or Jesus. I believe that the new church had much debate about what to tell new members conserning the law. What do you all think about the two things they stated. These REQUIREMENTS no sexual immorality or blood. I believe the kingdom of heaven is not about eating,drinking or what cloths you wear as I see mark is about that. Please this seems so clear to me how do you feel about what they said to the new believer ? help me understand I fear for you. King David said Johnathans love was better than that of women, but he did not think of marrying him but loved him, is that not enough? Congrats on loving each other so much. Please help me understand through the scriptures your stand.

  4. Mark says:

    Ron, I would be happy to respond directly to your comment point by point, but I honestly have no idea what you are talking about. I spent 11 years in Catholic school and attended 16 years of weekly services, so I have a background in religion. I am now an Atheist, so I feel no need to try to successfully align anyone’s actions with your 3000 year old book. If your god, or any god thinks that it is immoral for people to spend their lives with whomever makes them happy, it is no god I would ever want to serve. If your bible teaches hatred, get a new bible.

    If everyone would just leave the churches that preach hatred, they would die off and no one would be taught that garbage anymore. There are welcoming churches all over, I’ll never understand why people feel the need to hold on to a religion that teaches hate, unless they just want justification for their own prejudices.

    Sorry to take this happy blog in a political direction. I just get so angry when anyone uses religion to justify being anti-family. Again, congratulations, and I won’t pollute this blog anymore!😉

  5. ron says:

    Hello again, this is the narrow minded,bigoted,hater. Wow those are strong words, I did not intend to provoke,only understand. Mark I am sorry to misinterpret your stand on grace. My bad. My mothers whole family 10 kids went to catholic school and they got religion with a hatred twist all the way through. I think I did not judge you did I ? I thought that since you mentioned some not well known verses from the bible I was eager to speak with you and understand your thoughts on this better. I think the bible is living and active for all generations . I have done many wrong things and was hated for them. I then at 35 years of age set out to shut the mouth of the church for trying to lie to the people about how this ? year old book even pertains to this day in age at all. I was never in church, only to miss out on some military duty. I hated to hear about it and was sick of people being (brain washed). I took a class in bible study to shut them up and prove them wrong. I knew nothing and was taught nothing, at work I was considering my course of action for proving them wrong. I felt the sentence of death come on me, my sins in the open, many and awful. then Jesus asked me to come and leave that behind me. I did and instantly I felt my heart clean. My point is this God is very real the book is alive and it is full of love and forgiveness, no one knows like me! I am putting my e mail address here so all can see it . rhtte4@ please help me understand. this is open to all of you please. I hope I have not miss used your site.

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