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Gay marriage ruling has Iowans weighing their values

Calm deliberation marks the reaction, for the most part, to Friday's landmark court decision.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 6, 2009



DAVENPORT, IOWA

In the two days since the highest court in her state ruled to allow same-sex marriages starting in late April, Sheila Engel of Davenport, Iowa, found herself rethinking an issue about which she had assumed she'd made up her mind.

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"One part me says it's against my Christian beliefs. Another part of me says they should have equal rights," Ms. Engel said Sunday while paused in a grocery aisle of her local Wal-Mart. "There has to be a middle road here."

Her rumination is being shared by many Iowans who are coming to terms with a controversial issue that, until last week, was safely confined to America's distant coasts. With Friday's ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, the state became the third behind Connecticut and Massachusetts to permit gay marriages.

Legalization, however, means something different for Iowa than for its predecessors. The ruling is destined, for one thing, to reposition the heartland state as more progressive than it's usually perceived, especially by people who have never been to Iowa and dismiss the entire region as "fly-over" territory.

There is also the economic capital: Because legal status is granted only to residents, some are predicting that same-sex couples from nearby Illinois, Wisconsin, or Missouri may relocate to Iowa. Nonresidents can still marry here, and some may opt to stage their weddings in Iowa because it is closer than traveling to the East Coast. As a result of Friday's ruling, Iowa state government stands to see an estimated net gain of $5.3 million each year, according to a report issued last week from the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law that analyzes the link between sexual orientation and public policy.

Views on same-sex relationships

The share of Iowa adults who support gay marriage is relatively small – 26.2 percent, according to survey released Friday by the University of Iowa. But another 27.9 percent favor civil unions, suggesting that a majority of residents are not averse to some kind of official recognition of same-sex relationships.

In Davenport, a city of nearly 100,000 people positioned on the banks of the Mississippi River, a majority of Iowans interviewed Sunday said the real shock was that it arrived on their state's doorstep at all.

"We're not San Francisco. This is Iowa. This is the hotbed of 'bread basket values.' It strikes me as weird that the old-school farmers didn't come out and say, 'Knock it off,' " said Greg Meyers, taking a break from striking the pins at Bowlmor Lanes. The fact the ruling generated little controversy speaks more to where Iowans are in their "the level of tolerance" about the issue, he said. "My dad hates it, but he doesn't hate it enough to do anything about it."

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