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The Scarlet & Black

Equality forum engages marriage discussion

The marriage equality forum on campus this past Monday featured a panel of speakers discussing the status of the right to same-sex marriage in Iowa.
The campus Democrats hosted the forum with the intention of clarifying the Iowa Supreme Court decision on last April’s Varnum v. Brien case, which established that “limiting civil marriage to a man and a woman must be stricken from the statute, and the remaining statutory language must be interpreted and applied in a manner allowing gay and lesbian people full access to the institution of civil marriage” under the Iowa Constitution.
The panel included Matthew Skuya, the Deputy Field Director of One Iowa, a group dedicated to promoting equality regardless of sexuality, Professor of Political Science Rebecca Hamlin and manager of the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) Marjorie Scribner ’10, who also serves as the Layout Editor for the S&B. Elisabeth Rennick ’11, co-chair of the campus Democrats, moderated the event.
According to Rennick, Scribner, Skuya and others, the Varnum decision represents an important step forward. “It’s an issue of civil rights,” Rennick said, discussing her reasons for promoting this cause.
Skuya explained the importance of the right to marry. “There are a lot of barriers that are removed if you have a marriage license,” he said, citing tax status, adoption rights and medical access as examples.
Nobody on the panel or in the audience expressed views against same-sex marriage or homosexuality in general, although such dissent was explicitly welcomed. “I think that there is plenty of homophobia on campus, and probably if you asked those people, they might be against it,” Jon Richardson ’10 said. However, no such opinions were vocalized.
The entire forum was not spent promoting marriage equality. Much of it was dedicated to describing people’s reactions to the Varnum decision and the legal context of it. Skuya recalled to the audience rallies he had attended in favor of equal marriage rights—and some against—and anecdotes about individuals whose lives were affected by the affirmation of this right. Hamlin was asked to speak about the legal reasons for the decision after coincidentally presenting the case to one of her classes Rennick is enrolled in.
These accounts were generally well-received. “I enjoyed hearing about the reactions on the day [of the Varnum decision],” Richardson said. Justin Wedell ’12 attended the forum to gain a better understanding of the Court’s logic behind their decision. Wedell said he had “a better understanding of the legal reasons behind the decision… the meaning and impact of that legally”.
As Hamlin clarified, the recent decision—which passed by a unanimous vote—was not a major change in legal theory. “The court isn’t creating any brand new rights with the case. They’re simply applying the concept of equal protection that has a long history,” Hamlin said.
Skuya echoed this sentiment. “The Supreme Court has done its job and upheld the state’s constitution,” Skuya said.
Hamlin also emphasized that decision applied only to civil marriage, and that religious groups still have the right to define marriage as they so believe. She encouraged the audience to read the case for themselves so that they can better understand its scope. Many websites have posted the decision online for public access.
Part of the reason that the campus Democrats and advocacy groups like One Iowa are still focusing on this issue is that the function of the Varnum decision can be overturned by a constitutional amendment, as shown by Maine and California legislation. Iowa law states that a constitutional amendment must be voted for by the people of the state after first being affirmed by two consecutive terms of each house of the state legislature. This means that—if it passed through the legislature—a constitutional ban of gay marriage could be decided by popular vote in 2012. Such an amendment has already been drafted, and will likely be introduced to the legislature when they begin their next session.
Skuya and Rennick plan to work to prevent an amendment from passing. Each plan to encourage voters to contact their representatives and encourage them to vote against an amendment. Rennick believes that even some voters who do not support same-sex marriage are against the proposed amendment because of the legal precedent it would set. “To alter the equality clause of the Iowa constitution is a big deal,” she explains, “because that’s going to open the door for so many other forms of discrimination.” The campus Democrats will continue to work to this end by supporting politicians who denounce the amendment and calling Democratic voters to encourage them to publically express their opinion.

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