Five years ago today the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling that paved the way for same sex marriage in the state. Since the historic Varnum vs. Brien decision, public opinion on the issue in Iowa has changed.
J. Ann Selzer is president of Selzer and Company, which recently conducted an Iowa Poll on gay marriage. “We found the plurality of Iowans say ‘it doesn’t really matter to me, it’s not my issue.’ And more say they’re proud than say they’re disappointed,” Selzer said.
Back in 2008, more than half of the respondents to the same poll said marriage should be between one man and one woman. Rob Gilmer and his husband Rene Orduna live in Council Bluffs, where they operate the restaurant Dixie Quicks. Rob says they moved to Iowa, from Omaha, shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court decision. “Just the fact that it happened in some scattered states, then in the Midwest, in Iowa…Iowa was the leading edge, it was amazing and something I never thought would happen in my lifetime,” Gilmer said.
The couple opened Dixie Quicks in Omaha in 1996, but with the move to Council Bluffs, they expanded their restaurant to include an art gallery where they got married.
The lead plaintiff in the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case, Kate Varnum, believes public opinion still needs education even though it’s been five years. “We have a lot of work to do and we’re still working on changing the hearts and minds of people that we know and of Iowa in general,” Varnum said.
Soon after the decision, Varnum married her girlfriend and they adopted a son. “When we were first dating, we would introduce each other as our roommates or as our friends. Now we have no qualms about introducing each other as, ‘this is my wife,’” Varnum said. “Our son is two-and-a-half and he introduces us as ‘mama’ and ‘mommy’ and he will point out to others who we are in his life. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for us.”
Varnum said she and her wife Trish lead “a boring life” in Cedar Rapids, “just like any straight couple.”
(Reporting and photos courtesy of Clay Masters, Iowa Public Radio; editing by Radio Iowa’s Pat Curtis)