Saturday, May 2, 2009

The MAD Voter -- Freedom to Marry

(Originally published in the Liberty Press in May 2008)

So much has happened in the month, I hardly know where to start. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled to uphold the August 2007 District Court ruling saying denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional. Starting April 27, Iowa couples can begin marrying again.

A few days later, Vermont’s legislature decided to finish what they started in 1999. The first state with civil unions voted twice to expand marriage, overriding the governor’s veto. This marks the first time a state legislature made this decision without a court order.

New York governor Mark Patterson asked the New York State Assembly to expand marriage rights. Talk is happening in Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. This is quite exciting!!

This forward momentum exists in stark contrast to the anti-marriage movement of the past few years. Between 2004 and 2006 alone, 22 states passed constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage with 29 states barring it constitutionally and an additional 13 states barring it through law alone. But don’t look at the United States Supreme Court to take up this issue anytime soon.

LGBT rights organizations, civil rights organizations, and community advocates disagree over how exactly we should work to expand marriage to include same-sex couples. Generally, working through the legislature is preferred over working through the courts. However, early victories usually come through courts. So-called activist judges aside, protecting our rights through the judicial system is part of our rights as Americans and key to any civil rights struggle.

Take, for example, Brown v. Topeka School Board of Education. This Supreme Court ruling ended school segregation ruling separate but equal schools neither provided the same level of education nor protected the rights of African-American students. In some southern states, National Guard troops had to enforce this ruling at schools.

In the 1950s, many people disagreed with using the courts to force desegregation, yet today, few dare talk about “activist judges”. In fact, the Kansas Statehouse has a section dedicated to this decision. Our legislature recognizes the importance of the judiciary on protecting citizens.

Vermont wanted to expand marriage rights badly. The first vote moved quickly through both houses and was sent via messenger to the governor to sign. Using a messenger instead of normal services required an additional vote by the Vermont Senate. After the veto, both houses voted the same day to override, managing more votes than they had to pass the law.

Iowa’s story is more dramatic. 24 hours after a District Court judge ruled denying same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional, he stopped licenses from being issued but not before one couple married. One Iowa, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization, points out on their website Iowa’s long history of civil rights guaranteed by courts.

In Kansas, we won’t see changes anytime soon. The two bills introduced in Kansas this year have stalled. Hospital visitation never made it out of committee. Non-discrimination was voted back to committee. But the re-affirmation of Iowans’ right to marry does affect us.

Iowa, being a Midwestern state, has more impact on Kansas than California. Victories on the coasts impact LGBT rights nationwide, but advancements closer to home shows it’s not a Coasts-v-Midwest mentality but that Midwest values include equality for LGBT people.

So let’s help Iowa. One Iowa, the largest LGBT rights organization in the state, tells me the best way we can help is to go to their website, OneIowa.Org, to stay engaged in the struggle, all from your own home in the Heartland. They have recently released ad, “What does Marriage Equality mean for Iowa?”

April has certainly showered us with goodness. Being active in Iowa means helping Kansas in the future. As schools in the state protect gay and lesbian students, as states around us adopt protections for their citizens, and as we continue to stay engaged, the struggle for our rights will succeed.

The Mad Voter combines a bit of anger, a bit of crazy, and a bit of passion to Make A Difference (MAD) through simple actions and “armchair activism”. This column provides ideas to be involved and to know why. Follow @themadvoter on Twitter for faster updates!

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