Archive for April 5th, 2009

This will be my column in Monday’s Gazette:

A couple lessons I did not learn easily in my youth were how to pick my fights and when to accept defeat gracefully.

Iowans who oppose same-sex marriage would do well to remember those lessons. Or to learn them.

Sincere Iowans who care deeply about our state can continue to disagree about whether the Iowa Supreme Court was right to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. If you supported the ban, you now need to decide whether this is the fight you want to pick or whether to accept defeat gracefully and turn your attention and energy to more important matters.

Our state’s Constitution wisely makes it difficult to amend swiftly on a whim. If you want to ban same-sex marriage, the soonest you can finish that job is 2012. That means you won’t just be deciding whether to keep trying to get your way. You will be deciding whether to bog down state politics in an ugly battle for three years.

That’s a fight this state should not pick.

Our state needs to strengthen our economy. We need to rebuild our infrastructure. We need to rebuild communities recovering from disaster. We need to protect communities against future floods. We need to decide how to pay for all that. We have more important fights.

I have seen up close how ugly disagreements over gay rights can get. I spent two years covering religion for the Des Moines Register from 1998 to 2000 and no issue caused more conflict within more churches during that period. Then I moved to the Omaha World-Herald and covered a state election over a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Opponents of same-sex marriage invariably claim to be defending traditional marriage. But the truth is that marriage has a tradition of evolution and adaptation to changing culture.

Our culture has rejected polygamy, which was practiced by such religious leaders as Abraham and David and remains common in other cultures. Arranged marriages and marriages of young girls used to be the norm and still are in some cultures. In our nation, women were once regarded as property of their husbands and not long ago, husbands could rape their wives with no legal consequences. Bans on interracial marriage persisted into the 1960s.

In 2007, Iowa had 7,622 divorces, 38 percent of the number of weddings. So if marriage needs defending, it faces threats more serious than loving couples of the same sex.

Much of the opposition to same-sex marriage comes from certain segments of Christianity. But that opposition reflects the political and cultural views of religious leaders more than it reflects any priorities that Jesus set in his teachings. Nothing is recorded in any of the Gospels about Jesus condemning same-sex relationships. He did refer to a man and a woman when uniting in marriage, but not in a context of excluding other marriage commitments.

In other places, the Bible does forcefully condemn same-sex relationships. The same Biblical writers, often in nearby passages, also condemn eating pork and shrimp and condone polygamy and owning slaves. Many of the same Christians hoping to embroil our state in a three-year battle over same-sex marriage have no qualms about eating shellfish and pork.

Jesus did frequently address other issues that are timely today: He blessed peacemakers, encouraged charity to the poor, halted a legal execution and told people not to judge one another and not to fuss about paying taxes.

I don’t begrudge anyone their religious beliefs. If you believe your faith teaches that same-sex relations are wrong, go ahead and lament last week’s decision. But don’t bog this state down in this divisive issue for the next three years. Jesus had more important things to focus on. And so does Iowa.

Final note: Thanks to all who responded to last week’s column. If you’d like to read some thoughtful advice on places to visit in Eastern Iowa, check out the 28 comments to that post on my blog.


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