After an enduring, loving 23-year relationship blessed with two beautiful children, Lois Gray finally tied the knot on April 27, 2009.
Her marriage at the Johnson County Courthouse in Iowa City represented much more than a relationship milestone for Gray, 05MA. The small civil ceremony also cemented Iowa's place in history.
In April, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, making Iowa only the third state in the nation, after Massachusetts and Connecticut, to permit gay marriage. (Soon afterwards, Vermont and Maine also legalized same-sex marriage.)
On April 27, the day the ruling went into effect in Iowa, hundreds of same-sex couples, including Gray and her partner, Karen, 99MSN, rushed to courthouses across the state to apply for permits and to wed. Within days, Iowa became a wedding destination for gay couples from other states.
While jubilant supporters of gay marriage celebrated and waved rainbow-colored flags, opponents viewed the legal decision as a threat to traditional Midwestern and American values. Other commentators noted that the decision reflected Iowa's historical trend of being progressive on issues of civil liberties. As a territory and then a state, Iowa was among the first to refuse to recognize slaves as possessions, favor desegregated schools, legalize interracial marriage, and permit women to practice law. The University of Iowa, in 1855, was the first public university in the U.S. to admit men and women on an equal basis.
Nonetheless, support for same-sex marriage is far from universal in Iowa. A Hawkeye Poll conducted by UI political science professor David Redlawsk in April found that 26.2 percent of Iowans support gay marriage, while 27.9 percent oppose gay marriage but support civil unions. "Iowans may not be quite ready to support gay marriage completely," says Redlawsk, "but they are ready to recognize same-sex relationships in some legal form."
For couples like the Grays, though, the recent ruling finally gives them the same legal protections and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual marriage partners. The fierce debate about gay marriage and its implications—in Iowa and the rest of the nation—will continue. But Lois Gray has no doubts about the significance of April 27. She says, "It was the happiest day of my life."
For further information about the Hawkeye Poll on Iowans' attitudes to same-sex marriages and civil unions, visit www.news-releases.uiowa.edu/2009/April/040309same_sex_poll.html.