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Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

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By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

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By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

Liz Mathis
By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

Press Release

PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.

Gay marriage causes no harm to traditional marriage, study finds

By Scott Raynor | 09.08.10 | 6:40 am

While social conservatives depict same-sex marriage as a threat to married life as we know it, Iowa’s 18-month experience with the newly legalized institution has revealed striking similarities to traditional marriage and no discernible harm to it, according to research by IowaWatch.org.

Recently-married Ronald J Trouten (left) and Mark A Holbrook (second from right) relax on their couch with their son D'Angelo. Trouten and Holbrook are also guardians of Leslie (right, with the dog).

Moreover, marriage statistics show that female couples made up nearly two-thirds of the same-sex marriages in Iowa in the year after the state Supreme Court ruled it legal in April 2009. Although experts say a single year does not constitute a trend, the disparity is consistent with the traditional way Americans raise children and establish their gender roles early in life. The disparity also reflects similar trends in other states where same-sex marriages are allowed.

The findings are based on more than a dozen interviews with gay couples and national experts, and on an examination of journal articles, marriage statistics, census data, polls and court rulings by IowaWatch.org, a nonprofit website run by The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.

Thousands of same sex couples married during the year since the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the state’s Defense of Marriage Act in April 2009, and despite the controversy that has swirled around them, their marriages have endured.

For many, the marriage license provided a slice of American life previously denied them. For others, the license, because legal limitations remain, is just recognition of relationships already tested by time, legal obstacles and social ostracism.

“It’s suitable for framing,” said Ellen Lewin, an anthropology professor at the University of Iowa whose marriage to her partner in Canada is now recognized in Iowa.

Researchers have studied the meaning and characteristics of same-sex unions for decades. But rather than examining the nature of gay marriage to determine the merit of opponents’ arguments, the public debate has focused mostly on opponents’ charge that gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage and proponents arguing that gay couples deserve equal rights.

The IowaWatch.org study found similarities range from the way men and women often view marriage to the more mundane tasks of married life, such as doing yard work. Like people in traditional marriages, same-sex couples also talk about raising children and shielding them from the verbal slings of peers, the stability and unit-strength of a family and the value of loving relationships among parents and children, as well as legal necessities and financial security.

‘We live pretty boring lives’

The Iowa Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized gay marriage was unanimous, but the opposition has persisted, because it is fueled by fears that that the family, the bedrock of American society, is at stake.

“They should be allowed to marry, they shouldn’t be allowed to redefine marriage to mean ‘whatever relationship I choose,’” Maggie Gallagher, chairman for the National Organization for Marriage, said in an e-mail.  “All Americans have the right to live as we choose, we do not have the right to redefine marriage.”

In sharp contrast, married gays often depict a lifestyle and relationship that seems suburban stable, only now they have a marriage license like other couples.

“Not much has changed,” said Ledon Sweeney of Iowa City, who married his partner of 12 years. “We live pretty boring lives. We go to work; we mow our lawn, we pay our mortgage, and we go on vacation if we can save enough money.”

Four other states – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut – allow gay marriage. Nationwide, support has been inching up in polls, with an Aug. 10 CNN/Opinion Research Corp. found Americans split evenly on the issue.

Now, two high-profile campaigns will put Iowa into national focus. One is the gubernatorial contest between Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and Republican challenger Terry Branstad, who, along with social conservatives hope to win enough legislative seats to get a vote to allow a referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage The other is Bob Vander Plaats‘ campaign to oust three state Supreme Court justices up for retention vote this fall, an effort receiving huge financial contributions from anti-gay marriage organizations such as American Family Association.

While Iowa’s rural image conveys conservatism, Iowans are known for their passive, mind-your-own-business brand of independence, which often makes them difficult categorize on the political spectrum.

“I think Iowa is pretty libertarian,” said Mark A. Holbrook, who recently married his partner, Ronald J. Trouten of Iowa City.  “A lot of people don’t feel compelled to force their views on others.”

The angst over marriage in Iowa comes after a year in which the state of marriage has made a turn toward statistical bliss: more people got married and fewer split up. Divorces declined to 7,286, to lowest per capita level since 1968, according to 2009 provisional and historical data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The health department’s statistics also suggest gay marriage is not a trend on the fringe. Of the 19,204 couples who bought licenses to marry during the year ending March 31, one out of 10 were gay. In Pottowattamie and Johnson Counties, the ratio was one out four. The marriages occurred in 21 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Dissonance on a national stage

In Iowa, the disharmony over matrimony began almost five years ago when six same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Polk County and were denied. It was this complaint that reached the Iowa Supreme Court.

To add to the political cacophony, earlier this month Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 in California, overturning a referendum that had banned same-sex marriage. The ruling will be reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and may go all the way to the US Supreme Court. Although gay rights advocates say the ruling creates judicial momentum that will carry to other states, opponents say it just energized the referendum forces in Iowa.

Walker’s 136-page decision carries a dense ‘findings of fact’ section based on legal, psychological and sociological testimony and studies that bear on the Iowa controversy. Those findings led Walker to a bottom-line conclusion: both types of marriages carry the major factors that make the family unit a basic building block in American society, starting with the strength of family members’ relationships and the importance of those bonds to each member.

The ruling said successful marriage – whether gay or traditional – “facilitate governance and public order by organizing cohesive family units…, creating established households.” Walker found that “same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics … of successful marital unions.” He also noted that California recognizes citizens’ sexual orientation has no bearing on their ability to raise children, and it encourages same-sex couples to adopt or become foster parents.

Turning to matters of the heart, Walker, sticking with his cold legalistic tone, wrote: “Standardized measures of relationship satisfaction, relationship adjustments and love do not differ depending on whether a couple is same-sex or opposite sex.” Like most married couples, Walker said, gay couples are financially dependent on each other. They also get involved in their communities, contribute to the economy and help raise the next generation.

Approaches to marriage: similarities and one peculiar statistic

One of the experts cited in his ruling, Lee Badgett, research director of the UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, said in an interview that the meaning of marriage for gays and heterosexuals is clear.

“I have not seen any evidence that same sex couples approach marriage differently,” she said.

But the fact that lesbians make up nearly two-thirds of same-sex couples poses somewhat of a mystery to researchers. The proportion is way out of line with the 2000 Census figures showing lesbians made up 49 percent unmarried same-sex couples. That pattern follows in other states that allow same-sex marriage.

Adding to the mystery is that more married same couples in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark are male, according to Esther Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University . Studies in the early 2000s found the ratio around 3 to1 male. Moreover, in Mexico City, where a six-month-old same-sex marriage law was upheld in early August, gay male marriages also outnumber lesbian marriages.

So, why do more American lesbians marry than gay men?

Some experts think it goes back to the way America culture raises children. Long before children know about sexual orientation, society begins foisting gender roles on them, said Mimi Schippers, associate professor of sociology at Tulane University. Tradition dictates that women desire marriage more than men, she said.

“Girls are raised pretty from the moment they become consciously aware to think about marriage, to desire marriage and to see marriage as a goal.”

Males, on the other hand, are socialized to be reluctant to marry, said Stephanie Coontz, of Evergreen State College in Washington and author of numerous books on marriage, its history and myths. Because gay men and lesbians are raised in the same way, the pattern effects same-sex couples and helps explain differences in the two sexes’ desire for children.

Katie Imborek and Paula Boback, a lesbian couple in Iowa City, would agree. “We knew that we wanted kids and that was part of the traditional family structure that’s ingrained in you,” Imborek said. “A little part of us felt some inclination to follow along that path.”

Census figures show their inclination is common. The 2000 Census found that 33 percent of lesbian households have a child compared to 22 percent of same-sex male couples.

A lack of ‘bullet-proof’ rights

The disparity also has an economic explanation: men make more money than women, and gay men across the Atlantic, whose marriages enjoy national recognition, have greater financial incentive to marry than do gay men in America, where federal law doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, according to Rothblum.

In a 2005 article for the Journal of LGBT studies, Rothblum wrote the lack of federal recognition makes state-level marriage largely symbolic. Because women have a greater desire to marry and have children, a symbolic marriage may have more attraction for them.

The overwhelming majority of an estimated 1,300 specific rights, benefits and privileges that marriage delivers to couples come from the federal government. Same sex couples can file joint state tax returns, for example, but have to file separate federal tax returns.

To protect some of their rights, Sweeney and his partner, Mark Signs, took legal steps before they married. Their lawyer prepared power-of-attorney documents to protect their financial and medical rights. Still, they are worried about being caught without them.

“Heterosexual couples have bullet-proof rights …,” Sweeney said. “We do not.”

So they made copies and put one in the glove-boxes of each car, another in a lock-box at home, and they put one in their suitcases when they travel. Sweeney said that process prompted him to begin considering the issue of same-sex marriage.

Such legally imposed restrictions and separations produce more differences between gay and straight couples than would not exist otherwise, said Judith Stacey, professor of cultural analysis at New York University.

By the time gay couples wed, their relationships are usually well established. In a 2004 study, Kimberly Richman, a University of San Francisco associate sociology professor, found the average same-sex couple married in San Francisco had been together 11 years.

Attitudes toward marriages

The length of same-sex-couple’s relationships produces different attitudes toward marriage. For some, it whets their appetite for marriage; for others, it makes them wonder if they need it.

Consider Sweeney and Signs, the same-sex-couple in Iowa City. They were together for 11 years before they were married.

“I just figured we would be roommates for the next 50 to 60 years until both of us died,” Sweeney said.

Signs said for many of the male couples he knows, getting married isn’t a major goal. As for him, his relationship with Sweeney remains largely the same.

But many same-sex couples who had long relationships said marriage has created a powerful change.

“You feel validated as a couple, that you are no longer swept out of the public eye,” Katie Imborek of Iowa City, said, speaking about her marriage to Paula Boback. “That was such a wonderful feeling.”

Richman interviewed 100 same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts and San Francisco, and studied a survey of 1,469 same-sex-couples who married in San Francisco.

Seventy-two percent of couples said they felt more committed to their partners after marriage, and around 70 percent felt more accepted by their community. Acceptance from others legitimated their relationship in their eyes, more so than even the legal rights, she said.

“I heard a lot of stories about people who have been together for 18 years, and their parents didn’t see them as a couple until they were married,” Richman said.

Because marriage has never been available to gay people, many did not pursue long-lasting relationships. Stereotypes of promiscuity harden, because same-sex-couples can’t legitimize their relationship in the most socially acceptable way – marriage.

“The fact that they were excluded from normalized monogamy [marriage] reinforced the idea that they don’t need the monogamy,” she said.

Erika Riggs, an Iowa City lesbian who married less than two years ago, was a case on point.

Riggs met Sarah Williams 19 years ago and felt a strong attraction.

“I wrote her a poem,” Riggs said. “I was a love-struck puppy.”

But Williams became committed to another woman and took the name Sarah Baird. Seventeen years passed. Baird had children, and Riggs had girlfriends.

During that period, Riggs said she didn’t think much about marriage. It wasn’t possible, and Riggs wasn’t sure she wanted it. But, in November 2008, Sarah Baird split up with her long-time partner, and on New Years Eve 2009, Baird and Riggs married. Riggs said she has gone from avoiding commitment to embracing it, in part due to finding the right person and because same-sex-marriage became legal in Iowa.

“She had kids. This was the last thing I would have wanted or needed, but it turns out it is everything I need,” she said, turning to face Sarah in the back porch of their home. “It’s your fault.”

It opened up the possibilities of the heterosexual world which she said had been excluded from and never wanted.

Until now.

Scott Raynor is a staff writer for IowaWatch.org, a nonprofit website run by The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.

CORRECTION: In the version of this story that posed Wednesday on this website, IowaWatch.org inadvertently and unintentionally misquoted Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage. Her correct and complete quote in the e-mail is as follows: “They should be allowed to marry, they shouldn’t be allowed to redefine marriage to mean ‘whatever relationship I choose.’   All Americans have the right to live as we choose, we do not have the right to redefine marriage.”

Comments

  • rextrek1

    Been with my partner for 10yrs – got married this past Aug 4th in Vermont…..and yes, it is nice to be recognized by our families and friends….

  • Peggy2

    Dumb article. Did anybody say heterosexual marriages would disintegrate upon the legalization of SSM in Iowa???

    Let's see some long term studies on the effects of SSM on children adopted into such unions. They're out there…do your homework!

    • jontrouten

      Peggy2: You have a bad link. What do these studies determine? Most of the material I've seen confirms that kids raised by gay couples do no better/no worse than those raised by straight couples. If your issue relates to children *adopted* by gay couples, I'm not sure how much that specifically's been studied.

    • randt503

      Since SSM has been in existence for almost ten years in Massachusetts and in several other countries, one would think that by now there would be SOME sort of evidence to show that marriage is disintegrating. But there is none. In fact, Mass currently has the lowest divorce rate in the states.

      So how long do we have to wait before you concede that SSM doesn't harm anything?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, they did. You dont pay attention well.

  • bbenny3

    CRY MOAR, PEGGY.

  • Anonymous

    Iowawatch is a liberal activist group. Their study is not research; it’s propaganda. This is how the Nazi’s did research in the 1930′s to “prove” that Jews were inferior and deserved annihilation according to the principles of Darwinian evolution.

    Allowing homosexuals to adopt children is nothing more than legalized child abuse. It’s about like putting children in the care of prostitutes or drug dealers. Yeah, that child might survive their upbringing, but common sense tells you it’s a BAD thing to lay upon a child.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RUUVQIML3SQF2WQQIZRSCTDL5Y kevin h

      you have got to be kidding me gay people are the nicest kind of people you could ever know i have several gay freinds that would never hurt a fly

    • Anonymous

      I am sorry, but that is the most asinine statement I have ever heard. I can’t believe that in a world where child molesters, rapists, drug dealers, and prostitutes ARE raising children that a gay or lesbian couple who is in a stable, loving relationship and have a steady, reliable income are automatically going to traumatize a child if they are the parents. Really, this type of post reminds me much more of Nazi propaganda than what these liberal activists are posting.

    • Anonymous

      They must be. Only evil liberal activist groups could possibly find evidence that gays and lesbians are just people like the rest of us.

  • Anonymous

    I have met decent folks from two-parent, one-parent and same-sex-parent homes, and I’ve met crappy people from each of the same. I think it matters far, far more what kind of PARENT an individual is than what their private proclivities are or relationship status is.

  • Anonymous

    Just re-confirming what we’ve already known for years, but some are still in denial.

  • Corey

    Only the elimination of all conservative Christians will allow all Americans to be free and the world to no longer have to live in fear of the U.S.A.’s imperialist, terrorist holy war. The conservative ideology has never helped mankind in any way, it has not only never helped mankind in anyway, it has oppressed, murdered, raped and killed all those in it’s way to gain power. History shows us this. Fact shows us this. James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution”, along with many founders of this country, regardless of their religious or non-religious affiliations, knew keeping politics and religion separate not only preserves each, but helps them flourish: “The number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church and the State.”

  • Anonymous

    This is stupid.  You can’t make a study on the consequenses of same sex marriage after 1 or 2 years.  Do another study in 20 years.

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