In 2008, Iowa showed the nation the future when Barack Obama won its caucuses. Has the state’s Supreme Court done the same thing in ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, or has it turned the Hawkeye State into the home of Soybeans and Gomorrah?

The unanimous decision last week made Iowa the third state to legalize gay marriage, after Massachusetts and Connecticut. On Tuesday, Vermont became the fourth (but the first to do so through legislative fiat). That same day, the District of Columbia’s city council approved a measure recognizing marriages between same-sex partners performed in other states.

It’s nothing less than history in the making, said Andrew Sullivan:

It has been such a long journey, but we can see the mountaintop now.

After the Proposition 8 disappointment in California, gay-rights activists needed some good news. And the past week provided plenty, according to John Aravosis at AMERICAblog:

Holy crap. This is huge. On many levels. First, Iowa and Vermont both making marriage legal within days of each other, that creates the sense of a trend. Second, in Vermont, the legislature made marriage legal. Not the courts, the legislature. Why does this matter? Because Republicans have been arguing for years that the problem with gay marriage is that THE COURTS are making these decisions, rather than the people via their elected representatives. Well, today the people made the decision to legalize same-gender marriages through their elected representatives. What will Republicans say now?

The Iowa ruling was noteworthy for two reasons: It’s the first state outside New England to take the step, and the solid legal reasoning used by the conservative justices means that it may stand the test of time, according to Mark Kende, a law professor at Drake University writing at Prawfsblawg:

The author, Justice Mark Cady, is also not considered a left wing judge by any means which may further enhance the ruling’s influence especially since it comes from a “heartland” state. Opponents of the decision here plan to seek a constitutional amendment but that’s a long haul requiring approval in two state legislative sessions and a vote by the public. It’s not likely all that could take place before 2012 and the issue may have have faded by then somewhat. We shall see.

Dale Carpenter at the Volokh Conspiracy sees a trend developing:

This is the third pro-SSM state supreme court decision in the past year. In addition to the important marriage result, the decision is notable because it continues a growing trend among state courts to treat sexual-orientation classifications as suspect. …  No other state in the Midwest even recognizes same-sex domestic partnerships, much less civil unions, or marriages. … I can see two simultaneous effects from this: (1) rising expectations among gay couples in the Midwest combined with more political pressure to enact domestic partnerships and civil unions, especially in Illinois, and (2) rising alarm and political organizing among gay-marriage opponents in those same states.

If it is a trend, Rod Dreher at Beliefnet worried about the effect it will have on the free-speech rights of those who oppose it:

This morning, I had breakfast with some guys, including a lawyer. … The lawyer said that as soon as homosexuality receives constitutionally protected status equivalent to race, then “it will be very hard to be a public Christian.” By which he meant to voice support, no matter how muted, for traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality and marriage. To do so would be to set yourself up for hostile work environment challenges, including dismissal from your job, and generally all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views. That world got a little bit closer this morning. And most people don’t even see it.

What’s the problem? replied Hilzoy at the Political Animal:

Notice anything about those legal sanctions? They all apply to people who openly express racist views at work. There are no legal sanctions for expressing openly racist views on the street or on a public beach. Why not? We have this odd thing called “freedom of speech”, which precludes them. In a country that let Nazis march through a town full of Holocaust survivors, I find it hard to believe that Rod Dreher and his friends will not find some way to express their views in public. … Only someone whose life had been very, very privileged would assume that he had the right to tell his co-workers how sinful he thought they were, or that if this supposed right were threatened, that meant not that he should bear witness to the gospel in a more appropriate setting, but that his freedom of religion itself was in jeopardy.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King had a more immediate worry, that his state would become “a gay marriage Mecca.” Don’t, said Dan Savage:

That seems unlikely. Three words: pig manure lagoons.


tobrien@startribune.com