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Commentary: Iowa ruling shows tide slowly turning on gay marriage

As a kindergarten student, McKinley BarbouRoske mentioned that she had two moms. A classmate said he didn't think that was possible.

McKinley shrugged. "Yes, it is true because I do have two moms," she said.

Now it's official.

Blond-haired McKinley, now 10, is the girl whose picture appeared on hundreds of news sites Friday, fists in the air, joy on her face.

Her two moms, Jen BarbouRoske and Dawn BarbouRoske, were among the winning plaintiffs in a court decision saying they had the right to marry. In Iowa, of all places.

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot exclude gay Iowans from civil marriage, which "must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or religious views," Justice Mark S. Cady, the appointee of a conservative Republican governor, wrote on behalf of a unanimous court.

This week may be remembered as a corner turned in the quest of gay and lesbian couples to achieve equal status under the law.

The Iowa court decision was followed four days later by the Vermont Legislature's legalizing gay marriage over Gov. Jim Douglas' veto.

Then the Washington, D.C., City Council unanimously voted to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

For good measure, the White House announced it was inviting families headed by gay and lesbian couples to this year's Easter Egg Roll.

The struggle is not over, of course. Iowa opponents of same-sex marriage are strategizing about outlawing it in a constitutional amendment. Opponents in Vermont will try to overturn the new law. In states such as Missouri and Kansas, foes of gay marriage are giving thanks for constitutional amendments that ban it.

But the tide of public opinion is pulling toward acceptance. Polling by Newsweek shows that the percentage of the public that favors legal recognition of gay partnerships – either through marriage or civil unions – increased from 47 percent to 63 percent between 2004 and 2008. The rationale against same-sex marriages was weak in the abstract. There was never any evidence to suggest that gay and lesbian unions would weaken the institution of marriage, or harm children.

Now that same-sex marriages are becoming reality, the grounds on which to oppose them are even shakier.

Gay and lesbian partners are good neighbors. They raise happy, well-adjusted children. They lead parents' committees in schools, and coach soccer teams. It is difficult to oppose a way of life that looks a lot like one's own.

The Iowa Supreme Court decision says this about the 12 plaintiffs who sought to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage:

"Like most Iowans, they are responsible, caring and productive individuals. They maintain important jobs, or are retired, and are contributing, benevolent members of their communities. Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected."

In an affidavit in the Iowa case, Jen BarbouRoske, a registered nurse, explained why marriage matters.

Her daughter, McKinley, was born prematurely in California, she wrote. The two women who intended to raise her hovered over the infant in the neonatal intensive care unit. But only Jen BarbouRoske, who had delivered the child after an artificial insemination, could exercise parental rights on the girl's behalf.

Jen BarbouRoske later had to briefly give up her parental rights to participate with her partner in a joint adoption.

"Someday a classmate is going to ask if her moms are married," Jen BarbouRoske wrote. "We'd like her to be able to say yes. We want our children to have equal footing in the eyes of the government and, by extension, among their peers."

Now they do.


Barbara Shelly is a member of the editorial board at The Kansas City Star. You can send her e-mail at She blogs at