Iowa’s Outdated Medicaid Ban Fails Transgender Iowans

Thanks to One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing for explaining a little-known problem for transgender Iowans. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Amerigroup, one of Iowa’s private Medicaid providers, agreed last month to cover gender-affirming surgery for Andrew Evans, a transgender Iowa man and client of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

While we are happy Evans will receive the surgery he needs, we realize that it means only one thing: Evans’ surgery will be covered. The Medicaid provider refused to acknowledge the medical necessity of the surgery, instead agreeing to coverage in order to “amicably resolve” the situation. In plain English, they didn’t want to tangle with the ACLU.

Exclusions for transgender surgery and other trans-related health care continue. Iowa’s Medicaid ban on transition-related surgeries remains.

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Rest in peace, Larry Hoch

One of the plaintiffs in Iowa’s historic Varnum v Brien case passed away late last week. As Tom Witosky and Marc Hansen described in their book Equal Before the Law: How Iowa Led Americans to Marriage Equality, Larry Hoch was a middle-school teacher in his late 50s when he met David Twombley online in 2000. A few years later, he moved from New York to Des Moines to be with Twombley.

The couple had already entered into a civil union in Vermont, but our state didn’t recognize the legal status of their relationship. So when Camilla Taylor, an attorney for the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, reached out in the summer of 2005, looking for plaintiffs in a case that would challenge Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, Hoch agreed immediately without consulting Twombley. The two men jokingly called themselves the “Old Fart Couple,” since they were much older than the five other couples who joined the lawsuit.

Hoch and Twombly unsuccessfully applied for a Polk County marriage license in November 2005. The lawsuit was filed the following month. Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson heard oral arguments in May 2007 and found Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional in August of that year. His ruling was stayed pending appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, where seven justices unanimously affirmed the decision in April 2009, allowing the Varnum plaintiffs and others to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Molly Longman, One Iowa executive director Donna Red Wing described Hoch as an “incredible, sweet man” and said he was a regular at LGBT events in central Iowa: “I think for the community to see this older couple — they weren’t exactly spring chickens — engage so passionately in the fight for equality was so important.” Twombley told Longman, “We were both very proud to have been a part of history. We’ve had numerous gay couples that have married that know us or know of us, and they’ve gone out of their way to thank us for what we did for them.”

Although my life was not directly affected by the Varnum case, all Iowans should be grateful for what Hoch and the other plaintiffs did to promote fairness and equality in our state. Without their lawsuit, thousands of LGBT couples in Iowa would have had to wait six more years (until the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell) to obtain the legal and psychological benefits of being married. Witosky and Hansen wrote that Hoch and Twombley “weren’t the first couple the [Lambda Legal] organization had contacted. […] Several Des Moines area couples had been approached but declined for a variety of reasons, mostly because of the attention the case would attract.” After living in the closet for most of his adult life, Hoch risked becoming a target for haters in order to take a stand. May his memory be a blessing.

P.S.- Chief Justice Mark Cady, the author of the Varnum decision, and Supreme Court Justices Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht are up for retention this year statewide. Polk County voters will also see Judge Hanson’s name on the ballot. Please remember to mark yes for them all when you vote.

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America Needs Lesbian Farmers

Donna Red Wing, executive director of the advocacy group One Iowa, explains what really happened at the recent LGBT Rural Summit in Des Moines. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Rush Limbaugh is all a-twitter about what he describes as an invasion of lesbian farmers. His conspiracy theory includes imagined government payments designed to recruit lesbians to leave urban America and flood ‘red’ states to farm.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Of all of the events in the LGBT Rural Summit Series since it began in June 2014, it was our 2016 event in Iowa, the 15th in the series, that really ticked him off. Why Iowa? Why our event?

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Iowa reaction to Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality

In a 5-4 decision announced Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states and ordered state governments to recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere in the country. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Obergefell v Hodges, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Each of the dissenting justices wrote a separate opinion; all are available in this pdf file after Kennedy’s opinion. Amy Howe explained the majority opinion in “Plain English” while Lyle Denniston posted a brief analysis.

Follow me after the jump for Iowa reaction on both sides of the marriage debate. Two years ago, Bleeding Heartland compiled Iowa politicians’ comments on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor, which struck down the federal ban on same-sex marriages but left state bans intact.

As a group, Iowa Democratic politicians are more enthusiastic and less cautious about welcoming marriage equality now than was the case in 2009, when the Iowa Supreme Court struck down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Many Iowa Republicans called for elected officials to overturn the 2009 Varnum v Brien ruling by passing a constitutional amendment, but reacting to the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling, few in the Iowa GOP sounded hopeful that there was any chance to reinstate state bans on same-sex marriage.

I will update this post as needed.  

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Weekend open thread: Love and marriage equality edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? I’m not big on “Hallmark holidays,” but if Valentine’s Day (or “co-opting Valentine’s Day”) is your thing, I hope you enjoyed February 14. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I wanted to catch up on news from a couple of weeks ago, which may continue to reverberate during the Republican Iowa caucus campaign. The owners of Görtz Haus agreed to settle with a gay couple who had wanted to get married at their venue in Grimes. Betty and Richard Odgaard are Mennonites who don’t believe in same-sex marriage. Since the law doesn’t allow them to discriminate against LGBT couples, they have decided not to hold any weddings at their place of business. They also dropped their own doomed-to-fail lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Clips with background on the episode and reaction to its resolution are after the jump.

Social conservatives are outraged over what they see as an assault on religious freedom. Both talk radio host Steve Deace and Bob Vander Plaats’ organization The FAMiLY Leader have indicated that the Görtz Haus controversy will be a salient issue in the coming presidential campaign.

What these folks can’t acknowledge is that no one is forcing the Odgaards or anyone else to approve of or “celebrate” gay weddings. Many of us have ethical or religious objections to some marriages; for instance, if the couple began dating while married to other people, or if one person appears to be marrying solely for money, or if there is a large age gap between the spouses. Plenty of Jews and Christians would disapprove of my own interfaith marriage. No one is demanding that the whole world applaud every marriage, only that the religious beliefs of some don’t interfere with the civil rights of others.

Additionally, it’s important to note that no house of worship in Iowa has ever been forced to hold same-sex weddings. If the Odgaards ran a church, they would be fully within their rights to refuse to serve LGBT couples. Görtz Haus is a for-profit business, subject to the same civil rights statutes as other public venues.  

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