Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Marriage should be about love, not laws.

Gay marriage: a losing battle for legislators

Not long ago, I argued in this space against passing a state marriage protection bill that would basically be a ban on gay marriage. Today, I would argue just as hard against a law approving gay marriage in Iowa - for exactly the same reasons.

It's none of the state legislature's business.

On Wednesday, the big news was that almost 60 percent of Iowa voters are calling for gay marriage or civil unions to be allowed by the state - at least according to new "Big 10 Battleground Poll results released by the University of Iowa.

I'm not totally sure I buy the results there - there are ways of massaging such surveys to get desired results - and headlines. There have been other polls in Iowa that showed even bigger percentages of people believing the opposite - that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Frankly, who cares? It's not up to pollsters or public opinion and more than the state.

And by the time the 2009 session rolls around, a landmark court case may change the Iowa battleground. The Varnum v. Brien case, being heard Dec. 9, involves six same-sex couples who claim that the state's refusal to allow them to marry violates their constitutional rights.

So who gave judges the right to redefine marriage, either?

The state should simply stay out of it.

Love can't be defined by legislative debate. State senators and representatives are best kept as far as possible from you checkbook and your bedroom.

Simply put, the job of the state government is to balance a budget, fund our schools, repair the roads and dredge our lakes. Doing that right is about all we can ask. Expecting them to gather up in a room in Des Moines and decide rights and wrongs, dictate societal future, and define our own personal outlook on love and marriage for us will result in no one being satisifed.

Every time the legislature lets itself get tangled up in societal philosophy debates, and particularly one on sexuality, the result is months of wasted bluster and posturing, along with utter failure to attend to those practical matters that are their real job we elect them to do.

Re-open the gay marriage can of worms and there is no winning for them. Passing policy to specificially prescribe same-sex marriage will be seen by about half of Iowans as extreme and ultra-liberal, if not promotional of a homosexual lifestyle. Banning it would paint them in the eyes of the other half of Iowans as bourgeois, puritanical, discriminatory. Anything they would do would be challenged and likely tied up in courts for years.

Neither a law supporting or opposing same-sex marriage would stick, anyway.

At its heart, marriage is a religious institution, not a legal one. Churches and ministers have married gay people in the past without the blessing of lawmakers, and no doubt will continue if they believe it is the right thing to do. Other churches and ministers have refused to, and no doubt will continue regardless, for the same reason. Trying to force them to violate their beliefs would be a losing cause - all the power of the mighty legislature and the lofty judges put together would be little more than a whisper in the wind against the greater strength of faith.

Now, the most viable way out of this mess for legislators might be approving some sort of civil union for same-sex couples. Fundamentalists would be more likely to reluctantly live with that, and having a legal piece of paper of some kind might satisfy the desires of the gay community for a time.

As near as I can see, there are three schools of thought for those who are pushing for same-sex marriage in Iowa now.

* 1. Those who are doing it because they truly wish to make a lifetime commitment to their relationship. It is these people that the public as a whole can best relate to - we all innately understand the sense of longing and tenderness and a desire for connection to another, even if we personally do not relate to homosexuality.

* Those who are doing it as a political statement or to flaunt their brand of sexuality in public. They, I think, aren't doing their cause any favors.

* Those who are doing it less out of love than for economic advantage - to get a tax break and a better deal on insurance costs and other benefits. Do you wonder if the same number of same-sex couples would rush to marry if a civil union were permitted, but without economic benefits of wedding?

If people expect that legislative action will fundamentally change things, they will be sorely disappointed. Heterosexual marriage will not be hurt either way; so too will gay people in Iowa continue to make homes and lives together, and as they tell us now, will consider themselves to be married whether the state has sanctioned it or not.

People seem to think the legislature can legitamize, or prevent, homosexuality by some vote on marriage policy. Hardly. And if elected officials believe that themselves, shame on them. No one's mind will be changed.

The religious community will ultimately be the deciding factor. Here's hoping the legislators are smart enough not to presume to elevate themselves to that status.

Some sort of legal civil union is probably coming, though I don't know if the corridors of the statehouse or county courtrooms are the place to hammer it out. It won't be the end of the world if it does happen - considering that so many feel it is under attack, traditional marriage appears to be doing just fine.

I was interested to read this, from veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Kolby, in a statament the week before he retired from Congress:

"As much as the social conservatives might not like to hear it, there will be a time when your grandchildren say: 'What was the argument with gay marriage? Who cares?' "

In the meantime, lawmakers, stick to your day job.