Mid-week open thread: Varnum v Brien anniversary edition

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? Four years ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court announced its unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien, striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act. After the jump I’ve posted some links about that case, marriage equality in general, and today’s Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The return of Iowa wildflower Wednesday is probably still a couple of weeks away. By the first week of April 2012, many spring wildflowers were already in bloom (far earlier than usual), but even the bloodroot isn’t out yet where I live.  

A trip down memory lane: early reaction from Iowa Democrats to the Varnum decision. Attorney General Tom Miller, Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal immediately praised the ruling. It took Governor Chet Culver a few days to confirm that he would not try to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling.

The immediate reaction from Iowa Republicans to the Supreme Court ruling was much more negative. I’m sure hotel owners and other tourist-oriented businesses are upset that Representative Steve King’s prediction of a “gay marriage Mecca” turned out to be false. I tried to tell some of my coastal friends that Iowa was an economical and friendly place to hold a wedding! Now several of the states where they live recognize same-sex marriages too.

Democratic State Senator Matt McCoy was the first openly gay Iowa legislator. Four years ago, he immediately welcomed the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling with an online video. Today he spoke on the Senate floor about the milestone (click through to listen to the audio).

Signing on to the Varnum v Brien ruling cost three good Iowa Supreme Court justices their jobs in the 2010 retention election: Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker. The strong conservative GOTV against the justices probably took out several Iowa House and Senate Democrats who otherwise could have survived a Republican wave election.

News about the Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth:

Governor Terry Branstad did not attend the conference. Yesterday he met with Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Nate Monson and the conference keynote speaker, Crown Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of India.

Branstad did not send anyone from his administration to open the conference. Instead, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge delivered the opening remarks to some 800 attendees.

Judge, a Democrat who served with former Governor Chet Culver, says she has been to at least seven of the eight conferences and says the overflow attendance today shows a huge change in attitudes.

“I remember the first couple of conferences, and they were very poorly attended. People were almost concerned about being seen or it being publicly know that they were attending an LGBT conference. Look what has happened. Look how society has changed,” Judge says.

Lisa Stratton and Jill Gaulding, co-founders of the advocacy group Gender Justice, criticized the practice of painting the visiting team’s locker room pink as a way of humiliating and psyching out the opponents.

During his remarks on the Iowa Senate floor today, Senator Matt McCoy discussed the controversy surrounding today’s conference.

McCoy plans to attend today’s anti-bullying conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning Iowa students.

“This summit has received negative attention recently by a rogue group of individuals that promote lack of tolerance for others and I think it’s important today, as a legislature, that we mark this governor’s conference and prevention summit for bullying,” McCoy said.

The conservative Christian organization known as The Family Leader has criticized seminars at the conference which they say attack the Biblical and political views of opponents of same-sex marriage. Several Republican legislators have threatened to withhold taxpayer support of Des Moines Area Community College for donating a thousand dollars to the conference. The Family Leader has also called on Governor Branstad to withdraw his name as a sponsor of the event. McCoy praised the governor “for his courage” in allowing his name to be attached to the conference.

“And I denounce those that would criticize this effort to…create a safe environment for our students to go to school,” McCoy said.

Branstad last week told reporters he cannot comment on the controversy because he’s being sued. The state’s workers compensation commissioner alleges Branstad tried to force him out of his job because he’s gay. According to McCoy, “there is doubt” about the way Branstad and the governor’s top managers treat “employees who are openly gay.”

“It is time for the state of Iowa and the governor to recognized that prevention and anti-bullying should apply to state employees equally,” McCoy said.

Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic spoke at one conference session today. He discussed the “extreme right wing” that opposes equality for the LGBT community.

Sinovic told the session members that the best way to counter the “propoganda” of Vander Plaats and others is to use their own words against them. “There’s no question about what these folks are saying. It’s not like it’s taken out of context, it’s not some sort of twisted around agenda, it’s just literally video and audio of what they believe, and that is in itself the best attack, is just showing these quotes…for what they really are,” Sinovic says. […]

He says advocates should write to “right wing” legislators and complain. Sinovic also says the best way for gay advocates to sway opinion it to talk with their relatives and friends.

“There’s tons of research to back this up. If I talk to my brother and sister about this – my friends, my family about this – that’s going to be the most credible because they know me, they know you,” Sinovic says. “So, talk to your family, talk to your friends, if you hear them repeating some of the things you’ve heard here today or some of the things you might hear on the radio or news later on, or from Bob Vander Plaats later on, push back, don’t let them repeat it, challenge them on it.”

Sinovic also cited polling data that showed Vander Plaats “is viewed unfavorably by 42 percent of Iowans and favorably by 22 percent.”  

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  • Actual footage

    of 2009 GOP reaction:


    Oops, two days late for April Fools.

    Sadly the pink locker room flap will probably overshadow the rest of the LGBTQ conference. Even in Iowa City it’s culturally accepted as a “tradition.” Wrong battle to pick unfortunately.

    • something I'll never understand

      is Hawkeye fans’ deep reverence for Hayden Fry, one of Iowa’s most overpraised mediocrities of the last 30 years.

  • Fry

    I assume Hayden Fry is probably a social conservative given his Texas roots, but I think the locker room thing was a genuine psychological tactic.  A fair tactic? No.  I’m sure some people will say that it was cloaked in bigotry and they could be right.

    I don’t think most of his staff were rabidly anti-gay rights, but I could be wrong.  

    Fry’s legacy kind of gets overgrown because of the success of Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and people like Barry Alvarez, Bill Snyder, Bielema, the coaching tree that he left.

    • I know it was a psychological tactic

      not an anti-gay rights statement, but it wasn’t some stroke of genius, and the idea didn’t originate with him. I just never liked Hayden Fry and don’t get the whole Hawkeye fan thing about him.