You ought to give Iowa a try…

Don't Like Gay Marriage? Don't Get One!Justice moves slowly.  But in this case it was worth the wait.  In August 2007, an Iowa district court ruled the state’s Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  Today, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld that ruling and same-sex marriage will begin in Iowa in three weeks.

To quote the court:

Therefore, with respect to the subject and purposes of Iowa’s marriage laws, we find that the plaintiffs are similarly situated compared to heterosexual persons.  Plaintiffs are in committed and loving relationships, many raising families, just like heterosexual couples.  Moreover, official recognition of their status provides an institutional basis for defining their fundamental relational rights and responsibilities, just as it does for heterosexual couples.  Society benefits, for example, from providing same-sex couples a stable framework within which to raise their children and the power to make health care and end-of-life decisions for loved ones, just as it does when that framework is provided for opposite-sex couples.

The decision explicitly moves to the forefront the distinction between civil and religious marriage.  After considering, and rejecting, each of the arguments against same-sex marriage the court turns to the “unspoken” argument, namely religion.  It was left unspoken because it is not constitutionally valid:  “Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them.  The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions.  Instead, the statute declares, ‘Marriage is a civil contract’ and then regulates that civil contract.” (p. 65).

The state is also required to protect the freedom of religion.  But there are religious people on both sides of the issue, the court writes.  Therefore, the state is obliged to avoid establishing any particular religious belief.

A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.  The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past.  The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.  This result is what our constitution requires. (pp. 66-67)

And so, the battle returns to the streets.  As they did in California, those opposed to same-sex marriage will organize and campaign.  The difference, as I understand it, is that it will take much longer (perhaps 2 years or more) to get a constitutional amendment before the voters.  So far, the forces of reaction have done pretty well in these battles.  Have the marriage-equality forces learned their lesson in California?  At least in this case, the separation of church and state is up front in the debate.  That may win some libertarians. Time is on the the side of marriage equality.  That’s no guarantee.  But it does give some breathing space.

The right wing will want this before the voters in a major election year.  If it’s on the ballot in 2010, Obama may be tempted to avoid too much commitment.  It’s a state issue, as they say.  But I think marriage equality forces can make it easier for Obama to lend a hand.  They can be united.  They can be strategic, and they can do real organizing.  There is enough time to begin with low key dialogue and outreach.  If they begin that process now, prepare for the inevitable ballot issue, they can give Obama enough cover to come in and lend a hand.  The Prez respects organizing.  For once, let’s have the left do a better job organizing than the right.

Some links:

Des Moines Register Story and Editorial

In These Times

Focus on the Family doesn’t like it.

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