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On Deck for Same-Sex Marriage? Count on the Midwest

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I, like many across the nation, celebrated the most recent national election as a victory in the fight for LGBT equality. Affirmed by popular vote in November, we brought to nine the number of states that grant marriage licenses. And although anti-LGBT constitutional amendments gobbled whole regions of the United States the past decade, Minnesota successfully bucked the trend. But a look at a map reminds us that same sex marriage is allowed only in the geographic fringes of the country. Between Maryland and Washington stretches a patchwork quilt of state constitutions that prohibit same sex marriage. The beacon of hope in the American interior is Iowa. Nonetheless, marriage licenses became available there almost four years ago, and since then none of its neighbors have made much progress.

It's funny because the Midwest -- and by this, I mean the Midwest states that touch the Great Lakes -- have a tradition of voting liberal in the last two decades, at least when it comes to choosing the president. With the exception of Indiana and a few of the swingers during the second Bush term, the region has been a consistent source of blue support since the dawn of the Clinton era. But it seems that the socially progressive currents that emanate from Washington every four years hold only so much sway within the states themselves. Despite Obama's victory in the region twice, state governments are quite different beasts. Take a look at the recall election on Governor Walker of Wisconsin, and the tremendously contentious Republican-dominated lame-duck Michigan legislature that passed bills until 4:30 in the morning just recently. Agendas, clearly, are different at the state level.

I say that if any other region is on deck for passing marriage equality bills, it'll be the Midwest. When marriage equality gets a scoop into America's interior, it certainly won't come by way of the South. Nor will it come from the Plains states, or, well, Arizona. Give it a couple years, and my bet is that we'll see same sex marriage planks as standard parts of campaigns in each of the Midwestern states soon enough. Sure, Colorado may be ahead of some places like Ohio and Michigan; it's been in the pro-Obama camp for the past two elections, and its voters recently affirmed the right to smoke a bong. But Colorado is an island in a sea of much more conservative states like Utah, Kansas and Nebraska. If there's any region that's on deck for LGBT equality, it's the Midwest.

Support in this region is growing steadily, incrementally, but always enthusiastically. Polls in Michigan report that a wide majority of voters approve same sex marriage or civil unions. Across Lake Michigan, we see Mayor Rahm Emanuel encouraging state legislators to take up the issue, and Illinois' governor came out in support of it. Neighboring Wisconsin just this month saw its Supreme Court reaffirm civil unions. And approval of gay marriage in Ohio hovers just around the 50 percent mark -- the Washington Post found that 52 percent supported legalizing it, but a Quinnipiac University poll reported a smaller 45 percent. And let's not forget Minnesota, where thousands of dedicated volunteers and a well strategized campaign successfully stopped its anti-equality constitutional amendment from being ratified. Generationally, today's young people favor same sex marriage the most out of any other age cohort. As the Millenials come of age, today's young college students will be tomorrow's voters; typical of young people today, they object to very little when it comes to marriage equality.

I, too, am impatient when waiting for our legislatures to embrace equality; we can only predict how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule when it takes up our country's highest profile gay marriage cases on the docket. But it's helpful to know that the states on either coast allow same sex marriage, and here's what I think: those places are a sort of testing ground. Once policies pass there, people in the heartland will know that marriage equality does little to harm our communities. Opponents say that same sex marriage destroys traditional marriage, and that, of all ridiculous claims, it's a slippery slope to polygamy and bestiality. But if today someone from Chicago, Detroit or Milwaukee traveled to Seattle or the Beltway, they'd probably see places where families just happen to love one another. No one's damaging the rights of heterosexual couples. The only thing that they'll notice is that these families live in happier, more inclusive communities, and who wouldn't want to live in places like that?

If you're reading this and you live in the Midwest, it's time to take a stand now. Or if you're from somewhere else in the country, try turning your eyes to the Great Lakes region to see some forward movement in advancing the LGBT cause. Iowa is just a stepping stone, and from this point forward we can appropriate the successful blueprint of gay marriage advocates from both coasts and apply it to our own politics here along the shores of the Great Lakes. Sure, there's something to be said for waiting until solid majorities of state electorates embrace marriage equality. But the groundwork's already been built, and it's small. It's just a breeze right now, but give it a year or two and the winds will be just right for encouraging the sort of marriage reforms we want to see.