Kuntz: The unfinished fight for equality

BY KATIE KUNTZ | JUNE 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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Same-sex couples in Iowa have been able to legally marry since 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Varnum v. Brien that laws against same-sex marriage violated the implied equal protection clause of the state constitution.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court released a ruling striking down the federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which, according to its decision, affected more than 1,000 federal statutes and regulations.

The Supreme Court realized that DOMA did not defend marriage but destroyed marriage and harmed so many that states were trying to protect.

DOMA was not a law that encouraged an Anglo-Christian understanding of a marital union between one man and one woman. It was a far-reaching law that prevented same-sex couples from claiming tax exemptions and passing possessions on to their loved ones, and it forced same-sex couples to forfeit their status as a married couple in the eyes of the federal government — plus literally 1,000 other restrictions.

So today, many people are celebrating all around the country, including here in Iowa City.

And although people in Iowa City have been legally permitted to marry for four years, their vows and commitment to one another were not recognized by the federal government, until now.

The reversal of the Defense of Marriage Act means that legally wedded friends, family members, classmates, fellow Iowans will no longer be denied the privileges heterosexual people receive after being married.

It means that people who marry in Iowa may move to another state and still be considered married. It means that the federal government will no longer be able to charge greater than $300,000 as an estate tax to a widow who was happily and faithfully married for more than 40 years.

What the Supreme Court’s decision did not do, however, was legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Nor did it change the minds of the nearly half of all Americans who still oppose same-sex marriage — but it is moving them.

According to data obtained by the Pew Research Center, more Americans favor allowing same-sex marriage than ever before, the media are reporting more favorably on the topic, and even those who oppose same-sex marriage are more inclined to believe that legal recognition of same-sex marriage is inevitable.

But as of May, only 51 percent of the United States supported same-sex marriage equality rights.

And only 13 states and the District of Columbia, including Iowa, have legalized gay marriage.

Now, the state of California is counted among those states, because the Supreme Court also struck down California’s Proposition 8, but that ruling does not mean that the rest of the states will need to change their laws or allow same-sex marriage.

The court said clearly that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

But the court did not say that same-sex marriage is legal. The decision held that “the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, were matters reserved to the states.” The decision essentially says that the states must decide whether same-sex marriage is legal, and the federal government needs to accept the states’ decisions.

So for same-sex couples in Iowa, celebrate. For advocates, friends and allies, celebrate. The marriage, the loving union between people of the same-sex is legal and recognized in this state and by the federal government. No one can any longer take away the marital rights and privileges of Iowans, regardless of sexual orientation.

But for those outside of Iowa and the other 12 states that have legalized gay marriage, there is still work to be done.

We must still lead the way in proving that increasing the quality of life for everyone will benefit our society. We must prove that bigotry and state-sponsored control of individual’s love lives and commitments makes for a worse state and a worse country.

Iowans must teach through example that kindness and community strengthen not only people of the LGBTQ community but strengthens everyone by providing a safe space, allowing people to live their lives freely.

So, Iowans, celebrate and lead the way because the fight for marriage equality is still 37 states from being won.

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