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Donna Red Wing Headshot

The Bipartisan/Nonpartisan Push for Marriage Equality

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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

There has been a lot of movement on marriage equality recently, from responses to the upcoming United States Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8 to shameful tactics in the Iowa State Senate. What happens in the Iowa State Legislature does have an national impact. Let's look at LGBT equality as an example.

On April 3, 2009, Iowa became the third state to rule in favor of marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Though we are now joined by eight other states and the District of Columbia, we are still the only non-coastal state that has marriage equality. We are a national leader in the movement toward equality. What happens in Iowa has a ripple effect outward, across the plains, into the Rockies, south toward the Gulf, north into the cold waters of the Great Lakes, and eastward into the bustling cities and industrial communities. What we do here makes a difference in Pittsburgh and Detroit, in Anchorage and Honolulu. What we accomplish here sends a message to our neighbors in Omaha and Minneapolis. On the flip side, whenever we fail to advance equality and justice, we cede precious ground to our opponents across the country, sending a message that in Middle America, in the heartland, equality is delayed or denied.

As a leader in the LGBT movement for nearly three decades, I understand that progress is not a "straight" line from one point to the other. Instead, it is a kind of dance; it moves, takes two steps forward and one step backward, and in some places does a little "do-si-do." Progress loops back on itself, pirouettes and strikes in unexpected and interesting ways. This is how our movement communicates and operates.

That's why I think it's important that I connect what is going on in Iowa with what is trending across the country.

This past week, along with the rest of the nation, we celebrated the hundreds of amicus briefs that were submitted to the United States Supreme Court, all opposing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and/or urging the Supreme Court to rule that Proposition 8, the harmful California ballot initiative that blocked same-sex couples from marriage, is unconstitutional. We saw businesses and nonprofits, legal communities and medical communities, teachers and nurses, labor groups and environmental groups, Democrats and Republicans all find common ground and stand up for justice. We again saw our president stand on the side of American families -- our families -- and we saw conservatives advocate for true family values. The sheer volume of support for marriage equality has been overwhelming and will undoubtedly be viewed as one of those "two steps forward" in our movement's history.

I want to focus on Republican support for overturning DOMA, because it speaks volumes about the conversations we are all having on the issue of marriage. Some were absolutely shocked that over 75 prominent Republicans signed an amicus brief against DOMA, while others like One Iowa were proud to have our friends stand with us on the right side of history.

Ken Mehlman was one of those Republicans who signed the brief. Earlier this month Mr. Mehlman came to Iowa to make the conservative case for marriage equality. He was joined by Mitt Romney's Iowa strategist David Kochel and members ofIowa Republicans for Freedom, a group of conservatives and Republicans who all support the freedom of same-sex couples to marry in Iowa. To hear members of the GOP talk about their support for marriage equality because of their conservative values, not in spite of them, was truly inspiring. The Republican Party was founded on principles of individual liberty and limited government, and what could be more antithetical to those principles than telling someone that they can't marry the person they love? We are having that conversation here in Iowa, and we know that these conversations are happening around the country.

This event and the outpouring of support we saw afterwards is why we aren't surprised that prominent Republicans have endorsed DOMA's full repeal on a national level. Nevertheless, we know that we have a lot of work to do to truly have bipartisan (and ultimately nonpartisan) support for marriage equality.

Let's take a step backwards now. Earlier last week, 18 Iowa State Senate Republicans introduced a ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples. Senate Joint Resolution 5, or S.J.R. 5, would put this issue on the ballot for a vote that would eliminate a freedom that we have enjoyed in the state for nearly four years. The introduction of this resolution was nothing more than political grandstanding by a few senators who ran on anti-marriage-equality platforms. Though it was a petty act with no chance of movement, it sent a painful reminder to hundreds of Iowan families that some politicians do not value them.

As the Iowa GOP grapples with this issue, so too are Republicans on the national stage. And it isn't always pretty or well-messaged. Often it's fraught with controversy, hyperbole and harmful rhetoric. A few weeks ago A.J. Spiker, the chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, commented on Iowa Press that "there is a gay marriage party in the state of Iowa and that's the Iowa Democratic Party. The Republican Party embraces one-man, one-woman marriage and embraces the right of the people to vote on the definition of marriage." His statements fail to reflect the spectrum of conservative values in his own party and further entrenches this issue in two-party politics. That isn't what this is about.

Though we have seen forward momentum over the past few months, we are also still battling a mentality that marriage and equality are political issues, and that if a conservative supports marriage equality, fellow conservatives can and should use that against him or her in primaries. We must get beyond this discourse and remember that this isn't about politics but about people.

Here in Iowa we are having these conversations. They are sometimes painful, sometimes public and sometimes very quiet. Most of the time we are talking with our friends and neighbors, within our congregations and political parties, at our workplaces and in our homes. We are having the conversations that are shaping the national movement. What we have achieved here in Iowa has had an extraordinary impact on the rest of the nation, and we are continuing to advance equality, even as we celebrate four years of marriage equality in our state.

And so the dance continues. We know that our struggle for equality is on the right side of justice. We know that we will continue to reach out to conservatives and Republicans and invite pro-equality leaders on both sides of the aisle to join us. And we know that as Iowa goes, so goes the nation. Two steps forward... "do-si-do."