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Iowa Conservative Leader Speaking Out for Marriage Equality

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jun 8, 2011

Iowa voters responded to the unanimous state supreme court decision that brought marriage equality to America's heartland by tossing out all three justices who came up for a retention vote last November. But a new twist in the unfolding history of same-sex family parity shows that not all conservatives in Iowa reject marriage equality.

Former State Sen. Jeff Angelo remains committed to his conservative identity, reported the Cedar Rapids Gazette in June 2 column by Todd Dorman. But Angelo also remains committed to a vision of personal freedom and responsibility, free from undue government interference, the column said.

"Angelo is an evangelical Christian and a conservative," the column read, going on to note that the former state senator had supported a 2004 attempt to ban marriage equality by rewriting the Iowa constitution -- but adding that Angelo has gone on to reconsider. Indeed, he's created a group called Iowa Republicans for Freedom, which is dedicated to saving Iowa from just such an amendment, and preserving the freedom of gay and lesbian families to enter into the same legal status as heterosexuals.

"Angelo is determined to show that not all Republicans march in lock-step on marriage equity," Dorman's column said. "And he wants fellow party members to know it's OK, even genuinely conservative, to break ranks on this issue. He's receiving encouragement from some party members, but only very quietly, for now."

"The bottom line is, Democrats can point fingers at Republicans all day long," Angelo told the Gazette. "But if you really want Republicans to change their view, Republicans have to talk to Republicans."

"Angelo once bought into the 'love the sinner, hate the sin' line used by equity opponents trying to put a happy face on their hard line," wrote Dorman. But eventually he saw through that rhetoric.

"You finally say, 'How long can I keep demeaning them?' " Angelo said.

"Angelo also wondered how long his party, anchored to principles of small government and limited bureaucratic intervention in our lives, could advocate for denying the pursuit of happiness to thousands," the column added.

Gays and their families are rapidly gaining greater acceptance in American culture. It's in American politics that progress lags -- and especially among the political right. To some, like Angelo, there's a disconnect there. How can a party that preaches the virtues of personal liberty and freedom from big, intrusive government continue to advocate for laws that roadblock, or even strip away, rights for some even as the majority continues to enjoy those same rights?

"If you truly believe in freedom, you have to allow things to happen that you don't agree with," Angelo told the paper. "You've got to start the work of making it OK for Republicans to say what they really believe."

Angelo reportedly sees his own organization as "only the beginning of more Republican-centric organizations advocating for same-sex rights, including civil marriage," a June 4 Proud Parenting article said.

"Iowa is in the perfect position to start the conversation about how the Republican platform can get back to its conservative roots and back to being a party that stands for true conservative values, like limited government," Angelo said.

Angelo, who is straight himself and has three children, has pursued a higher media profile for his message, appearing recently on National Public Radio with Louis Marinelli, the former tour organizer for anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage who renounced his opposition to marriage equality earlier this year.

Angelo and Marinelli appeared on NPR's "The Takeaway", which broadcast a June 6 program dedicated to the topic "Why Are Americans Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage?"

"Last month for the first time ever, the majority of respondents [of a Gallup poll] said they were in favor of legalizing gay marriage. That means that some people had to change their minds, right?" host Celeste Headlee noted. "Last year, Louis Marinelli helped organize the 2010 Summer for Marriage Tour which stood in opposition to gay marriage. This year, Louis is leading the Summer for Marriage Equality Tour," Headlee continued.

"In one year's time, you did a complete one-eighty," Headlee said to Marinelli. "What was the foundation of your opposition to gay marriage a year ago?"

Marinelli responded, "[B]asically, I hadn't had an opportunity to actually meet these people, and I saw them as faceless and nameless political opponents." Once he had a chance to interact with a few gay people and hear their concerns about how their families are treated under law, however, his preconceptions melted away.

"It was meeting them and talking to them and being face to face with them, instead of attacking them and misrepresenting them through a computer screen," Marinelli said.

Angelo also shared the story of his change of heart.

"I felt so strongly in my religious belief that I believed that the government should recognize what I believed in my own faith," Angelo told Headlee. "And also, politically, I always told myself that this was bad for kids, that kids needed both a mother and a father, otherwise somehow they would be horribly ruined for life. And as Louis is saying, if you actually start talking to the people that you're talking about, it's hard to hold on to that view."

Angelo went on to note that there is diversity of opinion and practice about marriage as a religious sacrament, with some churches offering marriage to same-sex couples and others refusing it.

"I think that ought to continue," Angelo said. "We're a country of free religion. However, I don't think the government ought to decide through law who is right in this particular discussion" and prevent gay and lesbian families from obtaining civil marriages.

Marinelli said that the response from his fellow Republicans to his change of heart had been "largely disapproving," adding, "they're deeply committed to their faith, and I think that's a problem we need to address in our party as Republicans. We need to have an open debate about separating the church from the state."

Next: Talking, But Not Listening


  • GAG'EM, 2011-06-09 12:38:09

    It makes perfect sense that a conservative would endorse same-sex marriage. I’m only surprised that more conservatives haven’t come around. Marriage is a very conservative concept. It forces people to conform to societal norms and to adopt at least the appearance of monogamy and sexual fidelity. It promotes an economic unit based on the nuclear family and discourages diversity in family structure and forms of sexual expression and relationships. It also awards social and economic privilege on the basis of marital relationships. The gay marriage movement is not a radical, revolutionary or liberation movement. It is a movement toward conformity, and repression of those who do not conform to society’s norms in their romantic and sexual relationships, their expression of gender or sexual identity or their sexuality. It’s for these reasons that I’m opposed to the gay marriage movement. "Freedom to Marry" is an oxymoron. --Gays Against Gay Equality in Marriage (GAG’EM)

  • Marc, 2011-06-09 14:12:16

    I understand the sentiment GAG’EM expressed - why should we embrace an institution that does not work very well even for heterosexuals? One problem, though, is that legal marriage carries a lot of *rights* with it. As an example, many years ago when my lover was dying, even though we had drawn up legal and *medical* durable powers of attorney, his doctor never returned my phone calls. I found out more about what was happening with my lover through the pharmacy. I really should have sued the doctor’s ass off, but I was falling apart at the time, and I heard that the doctor was the best around. I would like to think that if I had been legally married at the time I would have been kept in the loop regarding my lover’s treatment and I would have been able to make decisions for my lover. It seems as though when you tell people you are married, they intuitively "get it". While powers of attorney are designed to secure rights, the general population is not familiar with them because they do not need to be. They automatically get these rights when they become married. Why should we not demand full equality? In California now there there are 3 classes of citizens, thanks to Prop 8: people who are or who can be heterosexually married, people who entered into same-sex marriages before Prop. 8, and people who cannot enter into same-sex marriages. This is ridiculous. Addressing GAG’EM’s point about being forced into heterosexual norms, it is easy to see lots of examples where married people are not being monogamous, so there is nothing to really force anyone into heterosexual "norms." Nothing prevents GAG’EM from celebrating his/her relationships any way she/he wants, especially in the Leather/Kink/Bear/Poly/BDSM communities. I think it comes down to a matter of equal rights. No more, no less. If one group of people has a legal right, why should that right be denied to another group of people?

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