It's hard to explain to outsiders how unusual it is, as a Minnesotan, to choose Iowa as a vacation destination. In 18 years of living in Minnesota, I'd never considered intentionally going to Iowa, much less gone there, for fun, but last week that's just what sounded good.
This isn't as freaky as, say, New Yorkers heading out on a Boston holiday to catch a Red Sox game. But we Twin Citians expect to be the hip, cool, Upper Midwestern place, the place where folks from the Dakotas or Iowa come to for a gaycation. After all, The Advocate named Minneapolis 2011's "Gayest City"! (Yes, it's true that Iowa City was named third gayest in 2010. But still.)
Still, I headed to Iowa on vacation last week. And the fact that marriage is legal for same-sex couples in Iowa was definitely part of the reason that it sounded like a fun idea this summer and never before. I didn't go to get married, mind you. I was actually traveling with my ex, a woman I spent 20 years with. Neither of us has gotten involved with anyone else since we separated three years ago, so it's not like getting married is on either of our to-do lists.
But there we were, zigzagging back and forth across the Iowa/Minnesota border as we took in sights, scenery, and towns. As we interacted with all kinds of folks in both states, the whole subject of marriage equality never came up -- that is to say, we never brought it up, and certainly no one else looked like they were about to.
I thought about it. I thought about asking the friendly waiter at the American Legion Club (the closest thing that one small Iowa town had to a café where we could grab a bite for lunch) if things were different now that gay people could get married in his state, but then I decided to just enjoy the synchronized swim team that was on the Legion's TV set and eat my sandwich.
Because the much-dreaded "defense of marriage" TV ads haven't started yet in Minnesota, and yard signs on either side of the amendment are a rare sight in small towns, it was easy enough to forget about the ballot initiative in my state. And certainly the "Welcome to Iowa" sign did not say, "Where same-sex couples can be legally married." So my overall experience was that people are people, with a range of approaches to life, whatever the laws of their state do or don't say about gay and lesbian couples.
Still, there was a feeling of safety in Iowa that does not exist in Minnesota, and not just because with or without the passage of the constitutional initiative, it's illegal for same-sex couples to get married in Minnesota. That's always been true. But in Iowa I didn't feel as if part of me was gearing up for an attack on my humanity, always watching for the dangers that accompany that.
It's good to be home, and I don't plan to move to Iowa anytime soon. I still love Minnesota, and I will even if this ballot measure gets passed. I'm old enough to still be amazed that marriage equality has moved the distance it has in my lifetime. But my teenager tells me that an active conversation for the younger set is where to move if the ballot initiative passes. That brings me immeasurable sadness for the young and for my home state.
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