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Iowa City residents, officials welcome Supreme Court decision anniversary, look to do more

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | APRIL 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Kate Varnum recalled April 3, 2009, as she huddled among six fellow couples awaiting the end of a legal process  which had started two years earlier. She and the rest of Iowa heard the result in Varnum v. Brien: by a unanimous decision, the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage was legal.

“I remember hearing, and felt like we were floating home on the way back to Cedar Rapids,” Varnum said. “We had just made history. It was a relief, and I felt more secure being in Iowa with my spouse.”

Four years after Iowa became the third state to recognize same-sex marriage, officials and supporters believe much more could be done.

One Iowa City couple said they welcomed the decision, but they were frustrated about the federal government’s refusal to recognize their marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The law was one case the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on.

“We are really happy to be legally married in Iowa, we are, but we’re still frustrated four years later the federal government has not recognized us as married,” Heal McKnight said. “It’s great to be married, but it’s still not quite legal marriage.”

Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, said while Wednesday was a day for celebration, the organization continues to ensure the right to marry remains true.

“You know we’re celebrating four years since the Varnum decision … but we’re always vigilant and watching to make sure we don’t lose the freedom to marry,” she said. “Our work over the next few years extend a hand to our opponents to people who are conflicted.”

Chuck Hurley, the vice president of the Family Leader, said the organization remains opposed to what the members believe is an overreaching decision, and the group will continue to rally support against it.

“We will continue speaking the truth and love about marriage, because we love our children and grandchildren, and all the research across all political and cultural divide agrees kids do best when they have a mom and dad,” he said. “The principles of our Constitution get … knocked around from time to time, and we need to continue to highlight the laws passed by the Legislature, not the judiciary.”

One example Hurley cited is the organization’s outreach to legislators to push them to support putting the issue on the ballot. Although the effort wasn’t successful, he believes if given the opportunity, Iowans would overturn the decision.

“I think Iowa is more like 31 states [that] passed one man, one woman marriage than like deep blue states Maine and Maryland, which voted the other way,” he said. “I think Iowa would retain definition marriage that was in existence 160 years before Varnum.”

Red Wing said One Iowa is also focused on issues that have arisen in health care, which includes allowing same-sex parents to be listed on birth certificates. Overall, one of its main focuses is encouraging couples to tell their stories to those opposed to the issue, and starting dialogues on the city and county level.

“We have so many wonderful couples willing to tell their stories, and I think that changes everything,” she said.  “At the town, city, or county level, that’s where you really begin change things from the ground up.”

Isaac West, a University of Iowa assistant professor who identifies as gay, said that while having same-sex marriage is important, he cautions solely focusing on that issue.

“Marriage is not enough — it doesn’t mean you’re protected from violence or hate speech,” he said. “Marriage is one thing, but is not the most important thing; there are issues like jobs, housing, and adoptions.”

McKnight said that at the state level, she wants to see the ability for same-sex couples to be listed on birth certificates and has an on-going lawsuit on the issue.

“The state decided Varnum in such an awesome way, but there is still a lot up in the air that poses a threat to gay and lesbian families,” she said.


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