Iowa Joins States Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage
LAW’s Robert Volk sees Northeast states following suit, and soon
On Monday, April 27, nearly 400 same-sex couples in Iowa applied for a marriage license. Granted waivers of Iowa’s three-day waiting period, dozens wed at hastily planned ceremonies on the steps of public buildings.
The number of states that recognize same-sex marriage doubled from two (Massachusetts and Connecticut) to four in April. In the wake of Proposition 8, which changed California’s constitution and restricted that state’s definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples, Iowa’s Supreme Court voted unanimously to make the state the third in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. And just days later, Vermont became the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislative vote when the legislature overrode Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry as of September 1.
Gay rights supporters — including Robert Volk, a School of Law associate professor, expect more states to follow suit.
Volk is the advisor for Outlaw, the law school’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) student group, and he taught New England’s first course on gay and lesbian legal issues, in 1987. He wed his partner of 11 years last summer.
BU Today: How has public opinion regarding same-sex marriage changed in Massachusetts during the past five years?
Volk: It has become an accepted part of life, and it has changed a lot of people’s presumptions. When you see a wedding band on a man or a woman, you don’t automatically assume they’re married to someone of the opposite sex. When my partner and I were shopping for wedding rings, we went to the jewelers building in Downtown Crossing, which is kind of an old-fashioned place, and the jewelers were completely unfazed. Same-sex marriage has become a part of life here, and it’s accepted.
How did the legalization of gay marriage affect the BU community?
BU has a terrible history on gay and lesbian rights. While almost all universities in the Boston area recognized domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, BU did not. Gay BU employees could not get health insurance benefits for their partners until the state legalized same-sex marriage. This occurred around the same time that Aram Chobanian (Hon.’06) became president of BU, and when the decision came down, he issued an order that said Boston University would of course grant benefits to married same-sex couples. It was the first time the University recognized same-sex couples and the LGBT community.
What disadvantages arise from gay marriage being recognized at the state but not the federal level?
Taxes are much harder. You have to file a joint form for the state and separate ones for the feds. And even though BU grants health benefits to my partner, they’re taxable. If I were married to a woman, they would not be taxable. Social Security benefits don’t apply to same-sex spouses, and immigration laws don’t recognize same-sex marriage. If you’re heterosexual and you want to marry someone who is not an American citizen, it’s easy. But not if you’re gay.
Will the issue of gay marriage ever be put to Massachusetts voters?
It’s unlikely this will happen, because, unlike in California, it’s not that easy to put something on the Massachusetts ballot. In California, it’s quite easy. All you have to do is collect enough signatures, and no legislative action is necessary. But in Massachusetts, it requires legislative action. And if the state did vote, I think there’s a very good chance the population would choose to keep it.
Why was the Vermont decision so significant?
Vermont’s decision is highly significant because it is the first state to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation, as opposed to litigation. Conservatives sometimes argue that the courts are imposing their decisions on the citizens. But in Vermont the legislature did it, and the legislature represents the voice of the people.
Do you think other states will follow suit?
Yes, it’s only a matter of time. The New York governor just asked the state legislature to vote for it, and there’s action in New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, and Rhode Island as well, although the Rhode Island governor has said he will veto it. I predict that in the next few years, there’s going to be a clump of states in the Northeast that legalize same-sex marriage.
Why the Northeast?
New England is a reliably liberal part of the country, and I also think there’s a libertarian live-and-let-live streak here. Also, evangelical Christians are very weak in this part of the country, unlike in the South and in California.
Do you think gay marriage will ever be recognized at the federal level?
Yes. It took a long time for integration to take effect. And the decision to overturn laws banning mixed-race marriage didn’t happen until 1967. The first state to ban miscegenation did it in the 19th century, and the Supreme Court didn’t make its decision until 100 years later. We’re moving pretty fast in comparison.
What are the arguments against same-sex marriage?
Most of them are religiously based, but marriage is a civil institution. No minister, priest, or rabbi will ever be forced to perform a same-sex marriage, and the benefits of marriage are civil in nature. So I don’t think private morals have any place in this debate, and I don’t think I should have to live by someone else’s moral code or religion.
Is it a violation of voters’ civil liberties, as many opponents of gay marriage argue, not to be able to vote on gay rights?
If we had put desegregation to a vote in the 1950s, we’d still be segregated today. We didn’t have a vote to decide whether women should be paid the same as men or to decide whether women should be allowed to join the armed services. Those are rights. The reason we don’t put rights to a vote is because by their very nature, rights for minorities are unpopular. So no, there’s absolutely no violation, because in this country, individual rights are not established by majority rule.
Vicky Waltz can be reached at email@example.com Comments