STORIES: Lauren

Lauren: Iowa Showed Me a Place for Hope

I did not grow up in Iowa, and when I try to explain to family living all over the country, not one of them understands why I have chosen to live in Des Moines. No words penetrate their preconceived notions of what Iowa is like.

I tell them the people here are different: They actually believe in integrity and compassion for each other. I tell them about walking at the farmers market and seeing someone drop their wallet, only to see a stranger pick it up and chase the owner down to return it. That doesn’t happen where I am from. I tell them that people actually smile at you when they pass you, and they hold the door for each other, and they wait their turn in line instead of pushing in front of everyone else. That doesn’t happen where I am from.

I tell people that I feel like I’m living in the movie “The Truman Show”; that everyone must be putting on a show just for me. But the longer I’m here, the more I see that this is how Iowans really are. People are not like this in other places.

The day the verdict came in the Varnum decision and gay marriage was realized in Iowa, I hadn’t watched the news, listened to the radio or read the newspaper. I came into work, the same as every other day, expecting nothing to be different. A group of my coworkers were waiting for me with smiles on their faces. “You mean you don’t know? You can get married now!” a colleague said to me. I stood looking at her in disbelief.

I grew up learning to hope for very little, and expecting even less. I didn’t have a glimmer of hope Iowa would ever have gay marriage; I didn’t even pay attention. But Iowa showed me I don’t have to give up on all hope when I live here. Iowa showed me we are different.

I never felt more proud to live in this state then when I got to call all of my family members and tell them the state they think is backward – the state they can’t believe I live in – just recognized my right to marry. And recognized it before Chicago, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Denver. Some opponents to gay marriage consider this a reason to call Iowa Justices activists. They say we shouldn’t be the first to have marriage equality in the Midwest, that we should follow suit for what everyone around us is doing. Why would we want to be like those places where fear reigns and distrust is the norm? Places where compassion for others has been forgotten, and every-man-for-himself has been adopted? This is not what Iowa has shown me; why would we want to be like that?

I know many people don’t understand being gay. But I bet everyone knows about not being understood. For the senators and representatives in congress, I imagine you experience that quite a lot. Maybe people in your life don’t know why you chose the profession you did, the area you live in, or even the spouse you chose.

Even the closest people in your life might think you could have done better; they don’t see in that person what you see. The difference is when you choose your significant other you did not have to have the entire state of Iowa vote on whether you should marry. You didn’t have to ask complete strangers their opinion of your significant other, or whether they approved of your decision. You have a right to marry whomever you choose.

When you put aside all the rhetoric and jargon, this is a very simple issue: Homosexuality is a fact, and gays and lesbians exist whether you approve or not. The only question is which Iowa you want to be.

The gay population is a minority. We will never be a large enough to defend our rights on our own. I chose to live in Iowa for a reason, even before gay marriage was a conversation in this state. But that reason was founded on the fact that Iowans have integrity, compassion, and are not like everybody else. I hope you decide to maintain those values and do not put my civil liberties up for vote.

 

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