So Very Normal
(This is cross-posted from the blog Dan and I run to chronicle the progress of same-sex marriage in Iowa. I thought I’d put it here as well.)
There is, of course, so much to report from yesterday that it’s not possible to catch it all. But a nice place to begin is The Des Moines Register, where you can scan the photo gallery. It’s a riot of hugging and smiling and lines and lines of same-sex couples wanting to be married. There are a few protesters in there as well, but not many, because mostly yesterday was about the marriage licenses. There were petitions delivered at many County Recorder offices, but these were, thankfully, simply delivered. I have yet to hear substantiated reports of any serious tussles over granting licenses, and I hope that I don’t. You can see an interactive map of which counties granted licenses and how many here.
This article, also from The Des Moines Register, sums up both sides rather well, I think. It reports same-sex couples feeling relief that the legal issues are resolved and enjoying the validation, and then you have statements like this:
“We just feel this type of judicial decision not only doesn’t reflect what most Iowans believe, but it’s also harmful to our state and to our country,” said Kurt Korver, 42, an Orange City doctor. “If a neighborhood is filled with homosexual couples, you wouldn’t want to have kids in that neighborhood. The purpose of government is to restrain bad behavior for the good of society.”
As outrageous as this statement is to any marriage rights advocate (and hopefully to many who identify as neutral/undecided as well), it is worth examining because it illustrates the most difficult hurdle ahead of LGBT rights and peace among Iowans in general on this issue. There is absolutely no logical or practical leap between a change in legal status for couples already living, working, and parenting in Iowa and a sudden state of neighborhoods “filled with homosexual couples.” And if we were lucky enough to have this happen, we know very well we would soon see our neighborhoods either looking very much the same except that we’d be inviting over Jane and Sara or Bob and Dave instead of Jane and Bob and Sara and Dave for barbeque or any other boring, normal everyday events. But this isn’t how the opposition sees the LGBT community, and nothing short of living through decades where they realize their fears have not come to pass will convince them it has not, but even then they might find it hard to let go.
Yesterday I volunteered at the Story County Recorder. I was there to pass out information from One Iowa and Lambda Legal, to answer questions, and to provide moral support. The Story County Recorder was absolutely, one-hundred percent supportive. They had no “gay agenda,” but they did have a human agenda. Nine same-sex couples registered in that office yesterday, and one opposite-sex couple, and they were all treated exactly the same. The staff were helpful and patient and took time to answer all questions. They smiled. They made reassuring eye contact. They were not over-eager. They made no judgments of any kind. They looked, in fact, often very pleased to be helping people get married. I suspect that’s a high perk of that job. They were even patient with the press, allowing them back behind the counter to get better photographs of the event.
The couples themselves were, overall, quiet, eager, and happy. Some were very nervous. Several applicants had children. One couple was Mark Kassis and Terry Lowman, whom I know from Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames, and because of their high community profile and long-term status, came with high media coverage and a full cadre of supporters, though they were there mostly to finish the paperwork they hadn’t been allowed to finish in 2007.
One woman was slipping over on her lunch break at work and was simply picking up the paperwork, as her partner was still in Kansas City and would be moving up in May. She came into the administration building and bee-lined for me, asking, “Are you with One Iowa?” She was a competent, professional woman, but she was clearly glad for support at this moment. She was excited to move her family to Ames, hoping to find a house for their four foster children, eager to be married and make their union legal. This was all. She had no designs on anyone else’s marriage. She had no desire to rewrite anyone’s belief systems. She just wanted to get married, get a house, raise her children, and love her partner with full legal security.
A lawyer who works nearby kept popping over to “get the news” and see how the day was progressing, and she summed the day up best. “It’s all so very normal,” she said, a smile spreading across her face. And she’s right. When I look at the online photos, I see the couples going to register, and it is so very normal. There’s nothing special about it, because they’re just people in love like everyone else. It’s so Iowa.
I think a number of marriage opponents in the Midwest fear is that cultures they see and imagine from elsewhere in the world or even in time will somehow appear in their backyard. I think they imagine narrow, shadowy shades of gay nightclubs, painted from bad news reports and their own imaginations, and they mix it in with carnal, delicious and terrifying ideas of what bathhouses must be like. So much of this, still, is about sex. The midwest, more than anywhere else, is a place where we don’t discuss sex, and for the most die-hard marriage opponents here, there is no erasing the image of gay men as anything but Sodom and Gomorrah in the worst possible Biblical interpretation. It doesn’t matter that this image was never true, or that even when it has been, it has been so in small, isolated places, and was often born out of backlash of prejudice and discrimination. It doesn’t matter that every single couple who registered yesterday was completely interchangeable with any couple registering on any other day except that these couples were made up of same-sex couples. There is a mental programming of what “gay” means in the minds of many, and it will be long, hard work to make it go away.
Mark and Terry were married yesterday. They were, in fact, married in 2007, and they have been more married than most of us have for a long, long time now. They have been business partners and parents for decades. They are friends. They are lovers. They are everything that all of us wish we could have when we dream of being partnered in a relationship. They are prominent members of a community. They are leaders. They are examples. They are devoted, but they are, of course, Iowans, so they really aren’t showy about it. They are practical. They are kind, and generous, and human. They are, in short, just like the rest of us, except to be honest they do a great deal of it better than most of us, because they’re one of Those couples, for whom it just comes so naturally. And yet Mark and Terry and the countless other Mark and Terrys, visible and invisible in Iowa, are not enough to stop comments like the one I cited above, which goes to show us that very little will be able to stop them except time and patience. Even despite commentary like this, you have but to read the comment section to see it falls on deaf ears. Those who want to believe gay marriage is a threat will accept nothing but the threat, even when it doesn’t materialize.
Iowa has had its two days in the sun. We will get a bit of spotlight again during the next caucus cycle, but beyond this, it is over. We have had our days as civil rights leaders, and we are now a little higher on the international Cool Index. But I have news for Mr. Korver, and Mr. Hurley, and all the other people panicking and waiting for the rain of fire to begin: it won’t. The lawyer was right. Iowa is, as ever, pathologically normal. Even when we are the third state to legalize same-sex marriage, we are still normal. We will still be the butt of corn and pig jokes. We will still be told there is nothing to do here. We will still have weather that is too hot and too cold and usually in the same week. We will still eat too much of Things On Sticks at the Iowa State Fair, and it will still be so hot you nearly pass out while we do it. There will still be chronic construction on Interstate 80. There will still be morel mushrooms in the spring, which someone will pick off your land before you have a chance to get out there yourself.
We will still have floods and famines. We will still have tornadoes. We will still have fires and crises and calamities and sorrows. And we will still, as we have always done, help each other through them. We will volunteer and bake things and have fundraisers. There will still be jello with fruit in it at every church function–even Unitarian. The only thing that will change because of yesterday will be that, slowly, quietly, and probably with a bit of Iowa hesitation, straight people will begin to notice that there have been loving committed homosexual and bisexual couples around them all along. Which, once they get over their surprise, they will realize means that there is more community, and because everyone is recognized, it is a stronger community.
So normal. So very, very normal.