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Yes, You Heard Right: Gay Marriage Is Legal in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled Friday that the state cannot bar gay couples from seeking to marry.

Gay marriage is now legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and ... Iowa. Yep, you heard right. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled Friday that the state cannot bar gay couples from seeking to marry.

It's a decision, obviously, that will have wide-ranging ramifications that stretch far beyond Iowa's cornfields, becoming a test case for how this issue will play in the Heartland. You'd be hard pressed to find a more middle of the road state than Iowa, where I grew up. It is neither red (though it went for Bush in 2000), nor blue (though it voted Obama, twice, by comfortable margins), but solidly purple, veering back and forth depending on the political climate of the country.

The Republican Party in the state has been taken over by social conservatives, which is one reason Democrats have had success at the statewide level in recent years. These Republicans are sure to react with fury to the court's decision. Congressman Steve King, an outspoken right-winger from western Iowa (the most conservative part of the state), released this statement today:

Now it is the Iowa legislature's responsibility to pass the Marriage Amendment to the Iowa Constitution, clarifying that marriage is between one man and one woman, to give the power that the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself back to the people of Iowa. Along with a constitutional amendment, the legislature must also enact marriage license residency requirements so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca due to the Supreme Court's latest experiment in social engineering.

But King doesn't speak for most Iowans, who tend to be pretty moderate -- though not overtly liberal -- when it comes to cultural issues. As the Des Moines register pointed out today, a February 2008 poll found that six in ten Iowans believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman but the same number supported civil unions for gay couples. The court's ruling, of course, goes further than that, which is why Governor Chet Culver and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin reacted to the ruling with a degree of caution.

Culver was vague:

The decision released this morning by Supreme Court addresses a complicated and emotional issue, one on which Iowans have strong views and opinions on both sides. The next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the Attorney General, before reacting to what it means for Iowa.

Harkin, a longtime liberal champion in Congress, was a bit more specific, reflecting the complexity of the issue in many Iowans minds:

My personal view has been that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I have voted in support of that concept. But I also fundamentally believe that same sex couples in a civil union should be entitled to all the basic legal protections and benefits of marriage. The Court found that it is necessary to afford same sex couples the ability to marry in order to allow them those legal protections and benefits. I will respect and support that decision and I hope that other Iowans can do the same. I know that this decision will be very hard for many to accept but I also know that it will provide many committed same sex couples and families important rights, as well as an important sense of recognition and belonging.

Meanwhile, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, both Democrats, reacted with joy, noting that "Iowa has always been a leader in the area of civil rights." Their statement:

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