Iowa ousts same-sex marriage justices

November 3, 2010

Last summer, before my bride and I stepped out on a bright and clear Iowa afternoon to be married in her parents’ backyard, we kept peering through the windows to see who’d arrived. My cousins. Her cousins. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, siblings, a sea of friends: white, Latino, black, Jewish, Asian, queers, non-queers, Christians of all sorts, agnostics, atheists – I kid you not, at least two Muslims.

We were in Iowa to celebrate our union because, like a lot of other couples, we wanted it to happen in a place that had meaning. And Iowa is where my bride was born and raised, where her family still resides, and where I’ve come to believe all that is good about America is plentiful. We were also there because, as two women in love, we wanted to make it legal – and the state of Iowa recognizes our right to marry, to legally enter into a contract to stay together, to create family, to plan our lives as one.

So imagine my surprise when, bleary-eyed, I pulled my phone to my face this morning to read the headlines and saw that the good people of Iowa have kicked out three of the Supreme Court justices who made it possible for us to marry. That’s right: Chief Justice Marsha Ternus – the state’s first female chief justice --, David Baker and Michael Streit are goners.

And check this out: Ternus is a Republican, appointed to the court by Terry Brandstad, the once and future GOP governor set to start his second round in January. It’s the first time in Iowa history that a member of the state Supreme Court has not been retained by voters under the current system.

Perhaps not surprisingly, though the voters were no doubt Iowans, the money and viciousness that stirred the pot to make this happen came from well beyond the state’s borders.

I remember when the Iowa Supreme Court decided Varnum v. Brien a year and a half ago, how it utterly stunned the rest of the nation. “Iow-haaat?” was Jon Stewart’s banner that night. The Midwest, as he noted, had trumped groovy California, where Prop 8 had just shut gay people out of marriage equality, in progressiveness. But it wasn’t progressiveness at all, as far as I was concerned.

The American Heartland has always been a hotbed of individual rights and common sense. Just look at the actual reasoning on the Iowa same sex decision: "We have a constitutional duty to ensure equal protection of the law.... If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded."

That, by the way, was an unanimous decision that included two Republican judges.

Iowa, as Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu reminds us today, has long been quietly reasonable: “In the 1839 ‘In re Matter of Ralph,’ the court said a former slave who bought his freedom from a Missouri owner could not be returned to Missouri. Eighteen years later, the U.S. Supreme Court, to its shame, would rule slaves weren't free just by living in a free state. In ‘Clark v. Board of Directors,’ the Iowa court ruled a 12-year old black girl couldn't be denied admission to her neighborhood school in Muscatine. Nearly a century later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the notion of separate but equal schools in ‘Brown v. Board of Education.’ Our court was ahead of the nation's in upholding the right of women to practice law, and black people's right to public accommodations. What if all those justices had been turned out in revenge?”

Revenge? No, I don’t think it’s revenge.

Revenge is what happens in response to a real or perceived grievance. And my marriage, and the thousands of other same-sex marriages in Iowa and other jurisdictions that legally allow it, frankly have no bearing on anyone else’s lives but ours.

If what bothers these people is seeing us lead our lives openly, loving each other or having kids … well, we’re gonna that do that anyway, law or no law.

Those judges were voted out, plain and simple, out of a whole other reason –that malicious and petty desire to needlessly harm and annoy which we call spite.

 

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