Varnum v. Brien

4 years after Iowa marriage ruling, same-sex couples see more acceptance

2013-04-26T22:00:00Z 2015-06-26T18:22:37Z 4 years after Iowa marriage ruling, same-sex couples see more acceptanceBRET HAYWORTH Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Gail Dooley and Linda Wideman plan to have a nice dinner out with friends and play board games to mark their fourth wedding anniversary.

"We're addicted to Qwirkle," Dooley said.

The Sioux City couple married April 27, 2009, the first day they could legally do so in Iowa.

The state became the third to make same-sex marriage legal when the Iowa  Supreme Court ruled April 3, 2009, that a law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional. Marriage licenses became available to same-sex couples April 27 that year.

The unanimous court ruling cost three justices, including Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, their jobs in retention elections the next year. An effort to oust Justice David Wiggins in 2012 failed. The next retention vote will be in 2016, when three other justices' terms expire.

A lot has changed in four years.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, and marriage-equality legislation was advancing in Rhode Island and Delaware earlier this week. It is legal in 11 countries and becomes so in New Zealand in August.

Yet widening acceptance of same-sex marriage across the United States and abroad hasn't put an end to the debate in Iowa.

On Tuesday, a group of House Republicans attached an amendment to a judicial branch budget bill that would reduce the salaries of the four remaining justices who were part of the groundbreaking Varnum v. Brien decision from about $163,000 annually to $25,000, the amount legislators are paid.

Rep. Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, said the justices "overstepped their constitutional boundaries" in making a decision that should have been left up to the Legislature. If the justices are going to behave like legislators, they ought to receive lawmakers' pay, he said.

Sen. Robb Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, called the proposal "ridiculous" and "almost certainly unconstitutional."

Matthew Ung, a conservative Republican from Sioux City who opposes same-sex marriage, said the high court's 2009 decision opened a new front in what he called "a culture war" in Iowa.

His opposition comes from the fact that same-sex couples can't conceive children and "it doesn't lead to healthy families," he said.

"Marriage fundamentally is a privilege, it is not a right. Everyone does still have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex," Ung said. "But the argument that 'it doesn't affect you, so stay out of my business,' that is not how social liberals act out in culture."


Nevertheless, opposition has become less strident as Iowans grow increasingly accepting of same-sex couples and recognize that they don't threaten heterosexual marriage or the family, said Jason Swaggerty-Morgan, who married his longtime partner at the first opportunity. Like Dooley and Wideman, Jason and Chuck Swaggerty-Morgan will celebrate their fourth anniversary Saturday.

"Not one straight marriage has been ruined yet," Jason Swaggerty-Morgan said. "This idea that the sky was gonna fall and marriage would be ruined and the Apocalypse would come. Find out that gay people who are married have just as ordinary lives as anyone else, and the sky didn't fall."

In fact, he said, life in the Swaggerty-Morgan household is fairly mundane, if hectic. The couple now has five children, and Jason is attending night school to become an elementary school teacher.

These days, Jason said he finds it easier to tell people about his marriage to Chuck.

"I don't get a reaction, other than, 'Oh, nice to meet you.' It seems to be something that people are used to hearing about now in the news," he said. "It doesn't seem such a foreign idea to them that gay people actually fall in love and get married and have a family, just like everyone else."


Jason Morgan and Chuck Swaggerty were among six couples listed as plaintiffs in the Varnum v. Brien civil suit, which was filed by gay advocacy group Lambda Legal in Polk County. Having fought so hard to acquire the same rights granted to straight couples, the pair, who have since joined their surnames, have a particularly strong union, Jason said.

Dooley, for her part, said daily life with Wideman feels the same as before they were married but she is grateful for "the underlying sense of security" the legal protections of marriage afford. That was brought home when the two faced a recent health concern and knew medical personnel would honor their joint decisions.

They're also glad to be able to refer to each other as more than "partner," although it took some working out at first. Wideman didn't want to be called Dooley's wife.

"We refer to each other as our spouse," Dooley said.

Like Swaggerty-Morgan, Dooley said she finds acceptance, or at least tolerance, for same-sex marriage to be the norm now.

"If there is anyone who is not supportive, they just don't say anything about it, which is fine," she said.

National polls showing young people as particularly supportive point to a major change ahead, Dooley said.

"I fully expect we're going to have federal marriage equality sooner rather than later. I think the writing is on the wall," she said.

"It is pretty clear that our country always moves in the direction of greater civil rights rather than fewer civil rights. I'm 100 percent sure it will happen."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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