Gay marriage in Iowa made national headlines again this week, after the state’s House of Representatives voted 62-37 in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it. The vote angered the marriage equality movement, but from it a star was born: Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student and son of a lesbian couple, spoke at the capitol building the day before and his speech has since gone viral.
But many of the blogs that reposted the video of Wahls have neglected the broader context of his speech. Here’s a look at what the house’s vote means for Iowa and the rest of the nation.
For marriage rights in Iowa, it means nothing. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat who has the final say on what reaches the floor, has repeatedly said this never will. (Even if he allowed it, an amendment wouldn’t appear on ballots until at least 2013.)
But this week’s events are a fresh reminder that conservatives will stop at nothing to deprive same-sex couples the right to marry by pandering to public opinion and circumventing the courts. Last November, Iowa voters who were mobilized by Christian crusader Bob Vander Plaats ousted three state supreme court justices who legalized gay marriage in 2009. And Tuesday’s majority vote, which included every House Republican and three Democrats, shows that gay marriage foes will keep trying to take the issue out of the hands of judges to give legislators and voters the final say.
The legal question of gay marriage is far from settled. A number of state courts, including New York’s and Washington’s, have upheld laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples by saying they don’t violate constitutional equal protection rights. But these courts stand in sharp contrast to federal district court Judge Vaughn Walker who in August ruled that equal protection rights prohibit California voters (and by extension, their legislature) from banning gay marriage. Social conservatives and gay rights advocates alike know that the U.S. Supreme Court will most likely be the final arbiter of this dispute. (Some on the right have predicted that it will uphold Walker’s decision.)
But until there’s a legal decision that determines the constitutionality of same-sex marriage across the land, opponents of marriage equality will keep playing to public opinion by parroting religious beliefs and discredited science about the harmful effects of gay parents on children. However, against the reasoned and heartfelt arguments of marriage equality supporters like Zach Wahls, their message is sounding weaker and weaker.