Outlining a Progressive Future

Same Sex Marriage Allowed in Iowa, But There is Still Far to Go

The Supreme Court of Iowa has ruled this week that legislation banning gay marriage in the state is unconstitutional and has therefore ruled to allow gay marriage there. The ruling was based upon the ‘equal rights’ clause of the constitution, which stipulates that all people within the state should be treated equally under the law.

The ruling comes as the gay rights movement in the United States grows stronger and stronger, with three states now allowing gay marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa), all of which have come through court decisions. Vermont is now the first state that is considering same-sex marriage legislation (http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=60530954005&h=oXyVa&u=Bs4-T.

These moves come as the gay rights movement grows throughout the world both within states (including Australia, the United States and many European states) where gay marriage is the last legal hurdle for equal recognition and in states where basic rights are still not available (http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=68639871521&h=8H_Y2&u=KmRur

However, at the same time, one must question how far same-sex rights have come and strong this movement is. At the present time there is no state within the United States that has seen same-sex marriage legalised through either a popular or legislative vote (although Vermont looks as though it will do so), whilst a large number of states have actively banned the act (California’s proposition 8 in 2008 being the most publicised), and given conservative governments it seems difficult to see that same sex marriage will be legalised in states such as Australia any time soon. On top of this, reports of discrimination and difficulties for same-sex oriented people are still very high, with same-sex oriented youth still experiencing the highest level of suicide within countries such as Australia. This to me shows that the gay rights movement still has a long way to go, not only through gaining legal recognition, but also through eliminating discrimination and stigma in the community.

The question then must be asked, can the movement achieve these goals? It seems almost inevitable now that achieving universal same-sex marriage legislation within Western countries will occur soon. In the United States I predict that this will unfortunately probably occur through a ruling of the United States Supreme Court (once the next conservative judge retires and is hopefully replaced by a Democratic President, therefore tipping the balance in favour of liberals), based around the equal rights clause of the US constitution, which will place a huge amount of pressure on states such as Australia to follow suit. Many European states (such as Sweden) look as though they will allow the act soon, due to internal and international (from other European states) pressure.

Regarding court ruling I say ‘unfortunately’ as such a ruling in my mind would not add to public acceptance of same-sex oriented people and would do very little to end non-legal discrimination. I believe that through focusing on court battles, the United States gay rights movement has done itself a disservice as funds have been moved away from public campaigns aimed at increasing tolerance and removing stigma. This has ensured that the conservatives within the United States have had a large proportion of the air-time, ensuring that stigma and discrimination is still very strong in the country. Therefore, whilst legal battles have been won, gains are still greatly needed in public acceptance and discrimination campaigns. It is for this reason that I believe that the gay-rights movement in California would be better served through another vote on the issue (for those of you who don’t know the US has a very different situation, where through a public ballot, legislation can be voted on by the people in a regular election) in 2010 (one that with good campaigning I believe they can win) than through having the change overturned in the courts.

In other countries we see similar sorts of problems. In Australia, although the acceptance of same-sex marriage is extremely high, I believe the gay rights movement is extremely weak. One could pin this down to a belief that constant campaigning would do very little given the politicians we have at the movement, whilst others may point to the lack of active engagement with the community from the movement. One only needs to look at how Mardi Gras has turned into more of a party than a political statement to see the weakening of the movement within the country.

Similar problems also exist within many European states, although one can point to a much longer and stronger movement within these states that have seen many nations adopt full same-sex rights, including same-sex marriage. Many still have to follow, which some are expected to do soon (Sweden in May, even though the conservatives are in power at the moment).

Where to from here?

The question then needs to be asked, where to from here? The basic answer in my mind is that the gay rights movement needs to start to better re-engage with the public to start changing people’s opinions and discrimination of queer people. This is a difficult task to do, but one that must happen. First steps could and should be actions such as taking the focus off court battles and more into public campaigns (including popular ballots in the United States). Although this may have a short term negative affect (with gay marriage being achieved later on), the long term affect of a greater public acceptance is great. In states such as Australia and in Europe, the gay rights movement needs to re-engage and re-invent itself to become more effective. This should include refusing to accept that changes will not occur and continuing with public campaigns to increase acceptance and reduce stigma.

Whilst we have come a long way, we have far to do. We need a strong movement to do that for us!


April 4, 2009 - Posted by | Analysing the Left, Human Rights, Options for a Progressive Future |


  1. This article is really interesting and confirms in my mind that the gay rights movement needs to be looking towards votes to try and gain a higher level of popular support. For example, I think ballots in states such as California and New York should be presented in 2010, so they can be fought on in left leaning states in a public sphere rather than in the courtroom.

    It is however worrying that this article predicts we will have to wait until 2024 until all states (in the US) legalise gay marriage, but one would expect that as other states start to adopt it, significant pressure would be placed on the others (especially in the deep South) to do the same. Nowing the conservatism of the deep south one can’t predict how they would react, but it could be a good think.

    Comment by simon2013 | April 7, 2009 | Reply

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