Just Your Average Marriage

The national media hasn't paid much attention to Iowa since Rick Santorum's caucus victory, but numbers released over the weekend tell an important story for national progressives. The Des Moines Register—the most respected state pollster during caucus season—asked Iowans about their feelings on same-sex marriage and found that a 56-percent majority are just fine with the state's current laws on same-sex unions and oppose any effort to amend the state's constitution. Only 38 percent would support an amendment to overturn the 2009 state Supreme Court's ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye State.

It was more of a wash when the Register asked whether Iowans personally opposed the court's decision.  A slight plurality oppose it—36 percent opposed to 30 percent in favor. But 33 percent don't have particularly strong feelings about the issue and oppose efforts to change the law by a 3:1 margin.

The numbers have largely remained steady since the last time the Register asked the question in 2011. They are, however, a sharp departure from Iowan's initial reaction to marriage equality. In their September 2009 poll—a mere few months after the state began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples—the paper found that only 40 percent would vote against a constitutional amendment while 41 percent sought a rewrite of the state's prime document to change the law.

What do these numbers mean? Gay marriage isn't entirely safe in the state, though legal barriers—the state requires legislators to pass an amendment to the state constitution in two consecutive sessions of the legislature with an intervening election before it's put to a public vote—make it unlikely that a constitutional amendment will come before voters anytime in the near future. But the shift in public opinion should be encouraging to marriage-equality advocates in other parts of the country. Iowa was not as favorable to same-sex marriage as the liberal enclaves on both coasts when it was passed—it was truly a tossup issue before the court's ruling. Now that it is legal, however, Iowans have realized that the sky hasn't fallen. As the Register described it in its recap, "Court ruling brings yawn from many." The ease of acceptance in Iowa is another sign that once marriage equality spreads to other parts of the U.S., it will fast become a standard part of life, not a point of contention.

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