WASHINGTON — Four years after winning the right to marry, Iowa's gay couples are watching this week's Supreme Court arguments closely for signs of whether they soon will have access to the same federal benefits enjoyed by straight couples.
Those include spousal veterans benefits, Social Security survivors' benefits and estate tax exemptions. It affects how couples file personal income taxes.
“It's profound, it's about justice and equality and the other side of that coin is it's about some very day-to-day, kind of mundane things,” said Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, an activist group that has worked to advance same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Iowa since an April 2009 State Supreme Court decision. The ruling produced a swift political backlash that resulted in three justices being voted out.
Conservative Iowa activist Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, spoke at Tuesday's March for Marriage organized in Washington by opponents of same-sex marriage. He said the court should leave traditional marriage definitions alone.
“It was an inspiring day for those of us who support marriage as one man and one woman,” Vander Plaats told The World-Herald. “When the court usurps the will of the people, good things don't happen.”
Vander Plaats noted the verdict that Iowa voters delivered the justices whom Iowans ousted and said he hopes that at some point the issue will be put to the state's voters.
Outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, there was a colorful display as justices inside took up the first case involving California's Proposition 8 prohibition of same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage supporters carried signs such as “If God hates gay people, why are they so cute” and “Jesus had two dads and he turned out fine,” while opponents held placards saying “Kids do best with a mom and dad” and “Man+Woman=Marriage.”
The case before the court focuses on the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes.
Vander Plaats said he'll be particularly interested in the outcome because the case is similar to the one decided in Iowa.
Defense of Marriage was passed on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis in 1996, but recently public opinion has taken a marked swing toward favoring same-sex marriage, according to public opinion polls. Many politicians have re-examined their positions as well.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is one of those who has done an about-face on Defense of Marriage, supporting it at the time but no longer.
“I regret that,” Harkin said of his earlier support. “A terrible vote.”
He said he hopes the court strikes down the law when it makes a decision this summer.
“I hope that they find that it's unconstitutional,” Harkin said. “And if they don't, we ought to take it up here and repeal it.”
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who is mulling a bid to succeed the retiring Harkin in the Senate, takes the opposing view.
“Marriage has been about natural procreation, remains about natural procreation and about parenting,” King said Tuesday. “Children need a mom and a dad. And that's the experience of all of the millennia of human experience. The Constitution never contemplated marriage being anything other than between a man and a woman. And for the United States Supreme Court to come to an opposite conclusion would mean, I think, a real distortion of the Constitution.”
Red Wing noted that she moved to Iowa so she could marry her partner, which they are set to do later this year. She said this week is important across the country, but particularly in Iowa.
“For those of us in Iowa,” she said, “we get to see if the United States Supreme Court does what our court was able to do and whether ... our families will have the same protections as others.”
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