Iowa Conservative Leader Speaking Out for Marriage Equality
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."