Get the Gay Marriage Issue Over With

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Republican effort to unseat Democrat Governor Chet Culver is well underway, but instead of being what it should be - about the economy, health, education and infrastructure in a state that is idling at a crossroads - it is seemingly going to turn into a very long referendum on gay marriage.

Now that Iowa has opened that can of worms, the issue simply isn't going to go away. And as our political parties wrestle each other and themselves over it, the issues that are central to all of our lives will be overlooked.

We have early odds-on-favorite Republican Bob Vander Plaats in Storm Lake promising to stop gay marriage with an executive order, and he has been quoted as saying he would personally make that decision for Iowa even if it got him impeached.

New GOP candidate Rod Roberts, out of Carroll, who appeared at the same event in Storm Lake, says Vander Plaats is wrong, and that he would instead try to force the legislature to call a vote on a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage.

If they want any attention, the other Republican hopefuls lining up will have to carve out some other fertile ground somewhere on that side of the issue.

Culver meanwhile, would like the matter to go away. It's a court decision, and should have no impact on politics (that is, it shouldn't get him tossed out), he says. With some exceptions, it appears that the Democrat-controlled statehouse is likely to work again to block a constitutional vote.

As a voter, homosexuality isn't a big issue on my radar. I don't claim to understand it, but people are people, and we have better things to do than hate. I'm not even sure why Iowa made a political issue out of this in the first place - isn't marriage a religious matter, and if so shouldn't it be churches deciding?

People have been able to walk into the local courthouse and get a license for a same-sex marriage for a couple of months now. As far as I can notice, nothing is particularly the better for it, nor has the world come to an end. The hoards or romantic gays haven't overrun Iowa as some predicted, or at least if they have, they didn't take my beloved parking spot just off courthouse square. Life goes on.

We could probably get over it now, leave the constitution be, and attend to pressing issues.

But if Iowans really want to vote, let them. The people elected to the legislature work for you, not the other way around. They have no right to block the wishes of Iowans.

When it comes to sticky issues - marriage or medicinal marijuana or whatever, notice that many of your leaders aren't so interested in hearing what the "will of the people" is.

A constitutional amendment take a few years and a couple sessions of the legislature to hammer out, unless maybe a constitutional convention can be declared next year to wrangle the issue onto a ballot sooner. If we're going to vote; the sooner the better. Let's get on with it and get over it.

There are some logistics to consider of course, if our eyes are open enough to see them. If we constitutionally ban gay marriage, what becomes of all the gay couples that married, legally, over few years? Are we going to forcibly divorce them? Or just pretend they don't exist? And I was always taught that Constitutions are written to protect people's rights - if the majority in Iowa decide to start using ours to limit the rights of others, so be it. But isn't that a bit of a slippery slope to start down?

Personally, while this isn't the biggest issue in my mind, I'm not sure I want a governor - any governor - presuming to ban anything on a social level on his own. Just as I wasn't particularly comfortable with one judge presuming to decide for an entire state of people. A constitutional amendment vote would be preferable to rogue government, because at least the public would be able to have a dialog and state its various cases.

For that matter, I believe some of the Iowa Supreme Court justices come up for re-confirmation this year. People could always send a message with a vote there, for whatever its worth.

Apparently the Iowa court decision has even sprung up a new cottage industry. I noticed on the web today a company called "My Iowa Gay Wedding," which specialized, obviously, in arrangements for gay nuptuals. The home page has a photo of Sen. Matt McCoy, the state's first openly gay lawmaker, encouraging same-sex couples to come here to marry, and stay to raise a family. Hmm.

No matter how you feel on gay marriage, I think there is one thing we can agree on. A sick-to-the-stomach feeling about how Iowa is being perceived around the country.

On his show, Jon Stewart showed a picture of a lone farm tractor pulling a trailer - calling it an "Iowa gay pride parade." As always, the national perception is that Iowa is a living Grant Wood painting, backward, uninformed and of course, bib overall-ed.

In reality, it is not so surprising that Iowa is the state to bring the gay marriage issue to open discussion.

It was Iowa that rejected slavery a generation before the Civil War. Iowa declared racially segregated schools illegal 85 years before the U.S. adopted such law. Iowa was the first state to recognize the unlimited right of women to university education, the first to permit women to become lawyers. And there was that voting for a black man in presidential primary thing. No doubt somewhat controversial in their moment. Open dialog is the Iowa way.

I hope nobody casts their vote in the 2010 governor's election based solely on gay marriage opinions, because frankly, whether we agree or not, it's probably coming nearly nation-wide before too many more years.

The only thing to do in the event of an issue that politicians simply can't handle, I suppose, it to let the people decide, problematic as it may prove to be. In a twist of irony, the very action of calling a vote to ban gay marriages may in fact inspire more same-sex couples to get married - while they still can. Something to think about.