Skirting the Issues: Complacency

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

Anti-marriage amendment. Iowa. Learn from others’ mistakes. 

What do these words and phrases have in common?

A lot.

In early 2009, seven Iowa Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled that gay and lesbian people were entitled to marry. This history-making decision made me proud to be an Iowa lawyer. I cried when I read the court opinion.

The ruling allowed thousands of G’s and L’s to marry their partners. It also spurred a backlash by far right wing conservatives, headed by a man named Bob Vander Plaats. What resulted was a campaign to unseat every Supreme Court justice and replace them with people who purportedly represent Christian values.

Every six years, several Iowa Supreme Court justices are subject to votes on whether they should keep their jobs. Historically, this “retention vote” was perfunctory. In 150 years, no justice had ever not been “retained.”

Three justices were subject to retention votes in 2010. Vander Plaats riled his base into successfully unseating all three. Suddenly, three of seven were out of work.

How did that happen?

Here’s another word: complacency. No one in Iowa believed it was possible that a nutcase and his followers could actually fire Supreme Court justices.

Not that I’m particularly astute, but I saw this coming. In September, 2010, I penned a column for an Iowa GLBT monthly in which I urged mass mobilization against the anti-retention effort. I wrote to the Iowa State Bar Association and told it to get organized.

The ensuing opposition to Vander Plaats and his cohorts was minimal, almost non-existent.

This fall, another gay marriage justice is up for retention. Once again, Vander Plaats is working to fire the justice. This time, the Bar Association is taking him seriously and putting on the full court press, with a splashy PR campaign in support of the justice and the entire Iowa judiciary.

In other words, they learned from their mistake. Hopefully, the Supreme Court justice will keep his job.

As everyone knows, GLBT Minnesotans and their allies face the Goliath of all challenges with the anti-marriage amendment. Millions of dollars are pouring into the state to rail against same sex marriage. The Catholic Church even requires parishioners to read pledges in support of the anti-marriage amendment at Sunday mass.

Unless we work, and I mean really work, to defeat the amendment, things here will turn out like they did in Iowa. The people who hate us will win and smugly believe they are the chosen ones. Decent people, GLBT and straight, will lose. Employers will lose. Everyone—even the haters—will lose in the end.

That’s the irony, of course.

Yes, the near constant phone calls and hit-ups for money by Minnesotans United can get tiring. All of us have donor fatigue. Sometimes it seems that every car has a Vote No bumper sticker, lending to the impression that maybe it’s not necessary to go the extra mile to defeat the amendment.

Let me offer one perspective: it’s much easier to hate than it is to love. The haters will mobilize their base much more easily that we’ll mobilize our base of lovers. Minnesotans United understands this. That’s why they won’t leave us alone.

Thank God—or whomever you prefer—for that.

Here’s my challenge to you: in the next two and a half weeks find someone—a relative, a neighbor, a co-worker, I don’t care—who isn’t likely to vote our way. Make the time to sit with that person and do something that’s in incredibly short supply: talk. Tell this person what it means to love someone regardless of their gender. Talk about how you want the ability to express that love in a way that everyone understands—with marriage. Remind them that you’re not seeking to take anything away from what this person already has.

Most of all, explain that you’re human, just like them. Why would anyone vote against something so human as marriage? 

If you do this one thing, you’ll have acted; the opposite of complacency.

I’d like to think Minnesotans are smarter than Iowans. At least that’s what I’ve repeatedly heard in the two and a half years since I moved here.

Let’s use those Minnesota smarts. Only we, as a community, can take care of this issue. Only we, as GLBT people and their allies, can appreciate the significance.

Just do it.


Ellie Krug welcomes your comments. You can email her at [email protected].

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