We're going to spend a few minutes talking about gay marriage.
Just six days ago, it was signed into law in Minnesota.
There is an effort here in South Dakota to amend the state constitution to allow for gay marriage; we'll talk more about that in a moment.
By this summer, gay marriage will be legal in at least 12 states.
Iowa was the 3rd state in the union to allow it. It's been on the books there for four years.
Tonight, you're going to hear from one of the first gay couples who married in Iowa.
And from the man who says overturning gay marriage in Iowa is one of his priorities.
This is Des Moines, Iowa.
Like Sioux Falls, its downtown is undergoing a renaissance. People are coming back and there is more of a focus on quality of life.
The jewel of downtown is the state capitol, where four years ago the state supreme court did what many thought would never happen in this Midwestern state. They ruled it was legal for two men....or two women....to get married.
"It was almost a surreal feeling, it was a little bit of just being void." Bob Vander Plaats was just outside the chambers of the Iowa Supreme Court in April of 2009, when the seven justices reached their unanimous decision. "We obviously believe that they went way outside of their constitutional authority and they made law from the bench."
Also waiting to see what the supreme court would say that day.....a man named John Sellers. "Is marriage something that I was hoping for? Sure. I'm not sure I really thought it was going to happen. And then it did."
John Sellers grew up in Iowa.
John Sellers is gay and in the Spring of 2009, he was marking 11 years with his partner, Tom Helten. "I just wanted to find someone and get married....someday."
The Iowa Supreme Court decision opened a door they thought might always be closed.
So on May 1st, 2009, they became one of the first gay couples in Iowa to legally marry.
And John says, his marriage isn't defined by the fact that he and Tom...are men. "The marriage is about how you take care of one another throughout your life...it's about the commitment that you have to each other...it's about taking care of each other through the good times, the bad times...for better, for worse."
"We're not against anybody here. but we're for the institution of marriage. one man....one woman." Soon after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling....soon after John and Tom got married...Bob Vander Plaats began his work to overturn legal gay marriage in Iowa.
He admits his argument is largely along moral grounds...but he says it should be. "When you undermine God or take God out of our personal lives or standards, and anything goes, then anything is gonna go."
Vander Plaats says he isn't personally judging anyone...that he doesn't hate gay people...but says there must be a standard clearly defining what marriage is. That without a clear definition...marriage loses its meaning. "If you take away the fences regarding marriage, you have undefined marriage. all of sudden in means anything to anybody."
In 2009, all seven Iowa Supreme Court justices ruled gay marriage legal.
Three of those justices faced retention elections in 2010.
All three...David Baker, Michael Streit and Marsha Ternus....were removed from office.
Bob Vander Plaats led the effort to remove those justices from office and he tells me, he's not done. "I believe the governor should issue an executive order ...the executive order would be...call time out...and lets let the process play out the right way."
Gay marriage became legal under Democratic Governor Chet Culver, who declined to issue an executive order.
Republican Terry Branstad has been in office since January of 2011...and he has declined to issue an executive order.
"What about my religious liberties? I go to an Episcopal church....there are other gay couples in the church. Marriage is fine in our church. What about my religious liberties too?" John Sellers says the idea of religious liberty and belief doesn't just cut one way. And the fact that someone is uncomfortable with his life doesn't mean he shouldn't be allowed to live his life with his husband, Tom. "We're just like any other married couple. We just do stuff. we go to church. We go to work. We go shopping. we argue about bills. Right now, as my mother ages, we are taking care of her."
Tom tells me, his marriage is no different than the marriage between a man and a woman; that it's about the emotion he has for John and not about the fact that they are both men.
Bob Vander Plaats....says that is the difference that matters. "If you do things God's way when it comes to marriage, things work out really good. When you go against his plan it's awful."
And Vander Plaats says, despite the passage of four years, gay marriage in Iowa can be overturned. And he has a plan. And it involves the golden domed state capitol where the original decision was made. "If you win control of the Iowa Senate you can pass a marriage amendment in the house and a marriage amendment in the senate and you can get it to the people of Iowa to vote on this issue and to amend the constitution that way."
The Iowa house Has traditionally been Republican while the Senate has been Democrat.
Vander Plaats is targeting state senate races in 2014, where he plans on making sure gay marriage is front and center as a campaign issue; one where candidates will have to clearly state whether they support gay marriage or not.
Voters threw out three justices who supported gay marriage in 2010. He's hoping the public will respond to gay marriage as an issue again next year. "When the people's voice gets usurped, whether it's in Iowa or across the country or in South Dakota the people are going to respond."
"The people I work with are fine with it, I believe they are...and if they aren't they don't say anything." Tom Helten tells me, if there was ever a good time to be gay in Iowa...it is now. He says something has changed in the last 20 years that has made this part of the heartland more open to the idea of gay marriage.
He says he rarely runs into people who say the way he is living his life is wrong.
And Tom's husband, John, says if people do have a problem with their life...it's their problem, not his. "If they want to make the judgment that's their business. They don't know me. They don't know our lives. they don't know our commitment to each other. they don't know about what family means to us. and how important that is. they don't understand that the most important concept to us is taking care of each other."
A big part of the reason we did this story was to allow both sides of this issue to clearly speak about it, without name calling or anyone being villanized and that's important.
At the top of this report, we mentioned an effort here in South Dakota to change South Dakota's constitution to allow for gay marriage.
The woman behind the petition effort has suspended it. She says she was physically harassed outside a Sioux Falls bar because of it.
And the lesbian couple she was working with....they're now refusing to talk publicly about it, saying they plan to move to a state which allows gay marriage.
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