First Anniversary for Iowa Marriage Equality

Paper is the traditional gift for a married couple on their one-year anniversary, and the substances get more solid as time goes on. As we celebrate the first anniversary of marriage equality in Iowa, paper is a particularly fitting reminder of the ultimate goals of marriage rights advocates.

The marriage certificate is as good as gold for same-sex couples. This single piece of paper validates our status as citizens of this country and affirms our partnerships and commitments in the eyes of the law. Camilla Taylor, one of the Lambda Legal attorneys for the Iowa marriage equality case, Varnum v. Brien, sums up the results of the victory:

This has been a transformative year for gay and lesbian Iowans and their children. One year of equality in Iowa has made same-sex couples and their children happier and more secure; made gay people everywhere prouder and safer; and reinforced the State of Iowa’s leadership in protecting the rights of its citizens. That’s a big win for everybody.

The fight, of course, is not over, and we would do well to consider the symbolism of paper here as well. Like paper, same-sex marriage rights can be shredded if we don’t all remain vigilant in their defense. Even as we celebrate this milestone anniversary, opponents seek to reverse our gains. In Iowa, the state legislature stood strong against attempts to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage; however, some politicians running for office are hoping they can win by promising to bring discrimination back to the Hawkeye state.

Iowans appear to be pleased with the their status as a leader on this important civil rights issue. As Gov. Chet Culver put it, “I think the overwhelming majority of Iowans do not want to amend our constitution in such a way that’s discriminatory. I think that’s the bottom line.” A poll conducted for the Des Moines Register found that more than 60 percent of Iowans believe that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage “does not deserve the Legislature’s limited time.”

While paper is the traditional first-year anniversary gift, the modern option is a clock. Iowans are right when they say that fighting marriage rights is a waste of time (and money–more paper!). Let’s hope that the rest of the country catches up with the heartland state’s view that this particular culture war  needs to become a thing of the past. Straight marriage, gay marriage, what’s the difference? As Jerry Seinfeld recently quipped,  “All marriages are based on a sitcom premise: “What if you and I tried to stay together for the rest of our lives?”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Photo courtesy of / CC BY 2.0


Audrey Bilger is the current president of Reed College, and previously served as vice president and dean of Pomona College. She is also a former professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College and faculty director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse. She also teaches gender studies, and occasionally yoga. Her latest book, which she co-edited with Michele Kort, is Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage (Seal Press, 2012). She is also the author of Laughing Feminism, editor of an edition of Jane Collier’s 1753 satire "An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting," and a frequent contributor to Bitch magazine. Her work has been featured in The Paris Review, Rockrgrl, the Huffington Post and the Women's Media Center.