The first anniversary of marriage equality is a good time to take stock. When the state Supreme court ruled in favour of marriage for all last year, many people in this rural, mid-West and moderately conservative state were outraged. Opinion polls showed that most voters did not support same sex marriage, and opponents vowed to fight for repeal. When the Governor and the Democratic controlled state legislature did not take immediate action towards changing the state constitution, the opposition vowed to turn marriage into an election issue. Superficially, the signs look good for them, with the Republican candidate for governor leading in the polls. But, for all the brouhaha, marriage is here to stay. On this at least, you can safely ignore the sound and the fury – it signifyeth nothing.
The death warrant for repeal was signed last week, when the legislative session ended without taking any action to initiate a process for a ballot on a constitutional amendment. This effectively eliminates any prospect of a successful ballot to repeal same sex marriage. The problem for the conservative activists is the time scale: the earliest that the issue can appear on a ballot is now four (and a half ) years away, in November 2014, as any proposal must first be approved by two successive two-year state legislature sessions. With strong Dem opposition to repeal, this will require a Republican takeover of the state legislature as well as the governor’s mansion, and a subsequent retention in 2012. Is this likely? Even if it is, this will not necessarily be enough. Many Republicans are learning that social conservatism is no longer the hot button route to electoral success that it used to be, and are more concerned to campaign on economic and financial concerns. They will know that opposition to gay marriage and support for changing the constitution do not always go hand in hand. Even in September last year, a poll showed that Iowans were evenly split on the issue of changing their constitution, even as they continued to oppose the principle of marriage. So, even if there is a Republican takeover of the legislature, a vote for a ballot will not be guaranteed next session – and is still less likely for the next one, following 2012.
Still, let us imagine the worst: let us assume that somehow, legislators get it right, and a constitutional amendment makes it to the ballot for 2014. Will it pass? My view is simply – no way. By then, Iowans will have lived with marriage for nearly six years. They will have learnt that all practical purposes, it has made little difference to their lives – except that some small businesses will found that they have been making some money from it, and some individuals will have found themselves unexpectedly attending weddings of family or colleagues that they did not even realise were gay.
When the Massachusetts court introduced marriage way back in 2004, even some liberals were angered. The battles for public opinion and in the legislature were heated and intense – and close. With the powerful backing of the Catholic church, opponents almost succeeded in forcing a popular ballot, If they had done so, marriage there may well have been overturned. However, they did not quite get to force that ballot. Today, marriage in Massachusetts is a non-issue, and even the new Republican Senator will not support overturning it.
In another six years, Iowa will feel the same way. Marriage equality in the mid-West, as in the North-east, is here to stay.