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Anti-judge retention vote reflects poorly on Iowa

BY ERIN O'GARA - GUEST OPINION | NOVEMBER 05, 2010 7:20 AM

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Like many people, I'm disappointed about how the election turned out, particularly for Gov. Chet Culver. My real reason for feeling so upset, though, isn't the sweeping partisan change that occurred in many states across the country — such is the nature of politics, and to some extent, inevitable whenever one party has a significant amount of control. Massive changes similar to this have happened many times before, and they will continue to happen.

However, I can't begin to explain how heartbroken I am about the historic decision Iowa voters made to dismiss three Supreme Court judges because of their ruling on same-sex marriage. These judges were appointed based on a merit system to ensure they were not simply voting along party lines — and in this case, the judges (two of whom were appointed by Gov.-elect Terry Branstad, by the way) were not making an even remotely partisan decision. Rather, they were ruling on constitutionality — which, for the record, is exactly what their job is supposed to be.

However, through the help of unbelievable and massive campaigns and out-of-state money, Iowans decided to remove them from the bench. Regardless of your feelings on any lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues, I find it incredibly hard to believe that the majority of Americans would be comfortable with the government (as well as any other individual or group of citizens) telling them whom they may or may not love and be legally bound to — yet that seems to be exactly what many people are striving for.

Not all that long ago, it was illegal to marry someone of another race in many parts of this country; the Supreme Court rightly struck this down in Loving v. Virginia. I'm guessing that most people today find the fact that there were such laws in place shocking and fully support this decision. I understand that there are obvious differences in race and sexual orientation, but the point is, marriage is a basic civil right that should be guaranteed to all people.

I completely understand the want and need for many people to have religion as an integral part of their marriage and have an actual marriage ceremony. However, the institution of marriage is not technically connected in any way to religion; rather, it is a contract in the eyes of the law. I know that this is not how many people view it, and I mean no offense at all to these feelings — I am merely pointing out the legal aspects of a marriage.

I don't think anyone should ever tell any church or religious organization whom they may or may not marry, but marriage as it is observed under the law should be afforded to everyone. It's not to say you need to support or agree with this, but that you are willing to acknowledge a human being has a right to equality in something so basic.

This "love your neighbor," "don't judge," "live and let live" position that I'm referring to has always been the Iowa that I've known and loved so much. I have always been incredibly proud to come from a state where visitors would comment on what wonderful, nice people lived here. I still believe that this is Iowa, and that's why I was so saddened by the intolerance demonstrated in Tuesday's vote.

I know that this vote technically does nothing to affect Iowa's marriage equality. But it does send a strong message about our position on such issues as a state. The Iowa I've always known is a loving, warm, and accepting place that believes all people are created equally. I hope we still are.

Erin O'Gara is a graduate research assistant in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.


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