Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth
Subscribe To
The Advocate
Scroll To Top

Iowa Gay Marriage:
American as Apple Pie

Iowa Gay Marriage:
    American as Apple Pie

COMMENTARY: Being both
biracial and bicoastal (and for a brief period, I even thought
I was bisexual), I have spent more time flying over the middle
of the country than I have living in it. But I've always
bristled at the notion of writing off the middle of our nation
as "flyover country," and I'm disappointed when people are
shocked that Iowa became the fourth state -- counting
still-contentious California -- to make gay marriage legal.
"Iowa?" some of my gay friends have asked since the
marriage ruling came down, scratching their heads and thinking
the only possibly gay thing about the Hawkeye State is that
it's the setting of
The Music Man

.

Iowa doesn't surprise
me with its progressiveness at all, nor that it will soon allow
me to legally marry the man that I choose. It was in
Iowa, after all, that my unusual family first found
acceptance.

You see, my father was
black and my mother was white. When they met each other in
Lincoln, Neb., in 1958, their mere presence together caused
almost as much of a stir as if they'd been two men walking down
the street holding hands. A sergeant in the Air Force, my dad
met my mom when he was dropping off a buddy at the women's
residence hall where my mother lived. After they started
talking, the son of the hall's owner attacked my father for
speaking to a white woman. It took three people to pull the man
off of him. Mortified at what happened, my mom asked my dad if
she could take him out for coffee, to apologize and show him
that not everyone in Lincoln was a racist.

It would be a hard
argument for her to prove. They went out on their first date,
during which my mom was arrested by the police on charges of
being a prostitute. (After all, she was with a black man…) By
the time I came along many years later, my mom was already a
middle-aged Midwestern mother. There's a part of me that finds
the notion of my Hamburger Helper casserole-making mom as a
prostitute outright laughable. But when I think of her as a
scared 19-year-old girl sitting alone in a jail cell, it makes
me shudder.

I'm not sure where my
parents' courage came from, but they kept on dating. My mom was
expelled from her college for seeing my dad, and she never
completed her degree. She had friends who tried to convince her
that interracial children would be striped like zebras. My dad
feared retribution from his racist superior officer in the Air
Force. Still, they eventually decided to get married, but
interracial marriage was illegal in Nebraska.

So where did my parents
turn when Nebraska wouldn't confer a civil marriage on their
relationship?

They drove next door to
Iowa. My uncle tried to have my mom arrested before she left
the state to prevent the marriage, but he failed.

Iowa dared to marry my
parents five years before Nebraska legalized interracial
marriage, and almost a decade before the United States Supreme
Court struck down antimiscegenation laws in the 16 states where
they remained in force. Even then, it would be over
40 years before the last state removed its
antimiscegenation law from its constitution -- however
unenforceable. Yes, Alabama explicitly forbade
marriage between the races in its constitution until the year
2000.

In marrying my parents,
Iowa set in motion a half century of family life for the
Thrashers. In our family there was love, and pain, and joy, and
sorrow, but the structure and support of our family was
made possible by the civil marriage Iowa
granted to my parents. By the time my mother and father passed
away, their family seemed less like an "interracial family"
than just another American family.

My parents did move to
California to raise their children, believing life would be
easier on the West Coast. I'm sorry my parents didn't get to
live to see Iowan Democrats make a zebra the winner of their
caucus and send him on his way to the Oval Office. I wish they
had lived to see the Iowa supreme court make gay marriage
legal. The irony that their gay son -- who has spent
his whole life living in or near New York or Los Angeles --
would be denied a marriage license in those
über-liberal cities, but could now get one in Council
Bluffs, Iowa, like they did, would not be lost on them.

I do not buy for a
moment that because Iowa's decision came through its court, and
not through its legislature, that this is not a significant
advance. Especially on the black side of my family, I am used
to the courts spelling out the promise of America. The Iowa
supreme court is creating space for patriots to step forward
and, like my parents, begin the brave, arduous, and sometimes
lonely American job of creating equality by living your life.
It will not be an easy road, but in a generation or two, when
the Meghan McCains and Steve Schmidts are the elders of the
Republican Party, gay marriage will be as much of a nonissue as
interracial marriage is now.

The Reverend Mark
Stringer performed the first legal gay marriage in Iowa in
2007, during the brief four-hour window when a county judge
deemed denying same-sex marriage certificates unconstitutional
before ordering a stay until the supreme court case. I asked
him for the best and worst about being at the
forefront of this issue. Looking back, he said it was
performing that first anniversary on the wedding anniversary of
his own marriage. "What an anniversary gift, to have the
first legal gay marriage occur on our front lawn!"

And while the worst
thing has been seeing how many truly committed couples have had
to wait so long to obtain the protections he and his wife have
had for years, he's also secretly looking forward to being able
to say to naysayers, "You don't have to agree with me, but
you do have to agree with the Iowa supreme court."

The six couples who
filed for the right to marry in Iowa, and countless couples
across the nation, have waited too long for this day. But
because of them, gay marriages will someday be seen as boring
as straight marriages, as American as apple pie and Iowa.

When the day comes for
me to walk down the aisle, I could go to nearby Connecticut or
Vermont. But I'd proudly like to spend my money in the state
that made my parents' marriage possible. I'd love to file for a
marriage license in Council Bluffs, in the same city hall where
my parents' marginally accepted union first received the
simple, eloquent dignity of civil recognition.

Now I just have to find
a man to marry…but that's another story altogether.

Tags: World, World

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()