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Monday, February 7, 2011

Des Moines Register editorial: Stand firm on civil rights, Iowa

No one ever said fighting for equal rights was easy. And no one ever said it was quick, either. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling that paved the way for gay marriage. It was a victory to be celebrated. But it wasn't the end of a quest to obtain equality for all Iowans.

In fact, it has recently felt as if that court decision was only the beginning.

Iowa has been experiencing a backlash to that ruling from the moment it was issued. Some candidates made gay marriage the central issue in their campaigns leading up to last November's elections. Voters removed three Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined the ruling. Now some lawmakers are trying to amend the Iowa Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriages and civil unions.
This is what push-back looks like.

It's also what being on the wrong side of history looks like.

Now is the time for Iowans to stand up and be on the right side of history.

The movement to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions is a movement to strip away the civil rights of one small group of Iowans. If the rights of one group can be taken away, whose rights are at risk next? It is critical to defend the rights of others to protect everyone's freedoms.
That is the message legislators should hear, because Iowa stands at a critical juncture: Will it move forward and protect equal rights, or will it move backward and remove them? The answer will define this state's character, both immediately and in the judgment of history.

From its founding, Iowa has had a proud tradition of taking the lead on civil rights long before the rest of the nation. In 2009 Iowa again emerged as a national leader on gay marriage. Where other states failed, this state cleared the way to ensure that people - regardless of sexual orientation - are treated equally under the law. Iowa shouldn't follow in the footsteps of California, which expanded marriage rights - before voters took them away. This isn't Georgia or Louisiana, which passed amendments intended solely to limit marriage rights.
Iowa must continue to lead. That means persevering for what's right in the face of adversity. If Iowans do that, history will regard us well.

America's, and Iowa's, constitutional evolution is a story of civil rights being expanded to include people who had previously been denied them. African-Americans, women and ethnic and religious minorities did not give up or go away when they faced opposition. They fought until their rights were secured - and then they fought some more to maintain them.
Other people - those on the right side of history - stood next to them and fought as well. Even if they weren't black or Jewish or Irish or women. People pulled together because they knew it was right.

That is how things work in America. That's how progress is made.

One of the main arguments against allowing women the right to vote was that it would undermine the traditional family. Imagine that. Yet, it's the same argument people use to oppose gay marriage.
We should be wiser now, as we write our history. Do we want to be remembered as a place that protected the rights of all people? Or do we want to be remembered as a place that proactively stripped people of rights?

This is not a time to quietly stand by while others try to stamp out the freedoms of our neighbors. Iowa is a place that protects equal rights. Not takes them away.

That is what this moment in history is about.


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