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Gay Marriage in the Midwest

We used to be the shizzle. Remember? For decades, California was the nation’s pacesetter. The birthplace of Barbie, blue jeans, and the birth control pill, the Golden State prided itself on dragging the rest of the nation into tomorrow. Or, at the very least, into Tomorrowland.

Faced with decisions like, “Shall we elect a glute-flexing cyborg as governor?” and “Should we light up the country’s first medical marijuana initiative?” we grinned our laidback grins, sipped our Left Coast syrah, and said, “Sure! Why not?”

We were the heralds of “hot.” The harbingers of “hip.” But no more.

Last week, our high court handed that mantle over to a pot-bellied, farm-belt state called Iowa. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Whereas California’s Supreme Court voted to uphold a ban on gay marriage, Iowa has been marrying gays since April.

They’re not the only ones. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont have given their blessings to gay nuptials, too.

But Iowa? The court’s decision was unanimous, and emphatic. Stephen Colbert joked that the ruling makes sense. “There’s nothing else to do in Iowa: shuck corn, drag race, pound a sixer, shuck more corn, propose to your football coach.”

In fact, Iowa has a long history of defending equality. It desegregated its schools almost a century before 1954’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education, and was one of the first states to permit interracial marriage. All of which confirms that California is now humiliatingly bass-ackward. And the heartland prairie that is Iowa — origin of the Winnebago — is wicked cool.

“They have those covered bridges!” says my friend Alex Kuisis, who drove through the state once. “And Amish people! Who isn’t fascinated by Amish people?”

I went looking for more evidence that Iowa rocks. Home of Glenn Miller, John Wayne, and the guy who painted “American Gothic,” the Hawkeye State boasts the esteemed University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the telltale Iowa Caucus.

You thought San Francisco’s Lombard Street was the crookedest street in the world? That honor goes to Snake Alley in Burlington, Iowa. And the largest Danish settlement in the U.S. isn’t Solvang. It’s Elk Horn, Iowa. How do you like them aebelskiver?

Though Iowans grow soybeans, their tastes run toward less foo-foo fare like the Maid-Rite “loose meat” sandwich, a scoop of ground beef between two puffy, white, grease-dipped buns. Iowans swear crime rates and housing prices are low. And while the weather is bad, the people are extraordinarily good.

“We were in a gnarly tornado several years ago,” recalls my Santa Barbara friend Kelly Tanowitz, who was visiting a family homestead there, “and the entire high school football team had come and cleaned up everything before we were awake the next morning.”

“The people are amazing,” echoes JenHolly Anderson, who grew up in Santa Ynez but fell in love with Iowa while attending college there, and moved there permanently. “I have found Iowans to be incredibly supportive, open, and kind in their interactions.”

She says there are plenty of residents with conservative social views, but the state’s decision to allow gay marriage is in keeping with its primary values. “It shows that Iowans care more about another individual’s rights as a human being than their own political convictions.”

Look, gay marriage is inevitable. All civil rights battles end badly for bigots, and this one, like those before it, is a forgone conclusion, a done deal. Or fait accompli, as they never ever say in Iowa.

Until then, take a cue from The Music Man, the corn-belt-set quintessential American musical: “What the heck, you’re welcome, glad to have you with us. You really ought to give Iowa a try.”

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