The Judge Bus Hits Iowa, Just Behind the Marriage Bus


A week ago today, a dozen starry-eyed couples from the St. Louis area got married in Iowa City. The ride to the Hawkeye State, in a chartered bus, was long. The day began before dawn. And, because all the couples are same-sex couples, their marriages aren't even recognized back home in Missouri.

And now, heading into the final days of election season, another bus has been crisscrossing Iowa: The Judge Bus. The bus made stops all over the state, wrapping up this morning in Des Moines. Conservative bigwigs like former Senator Rick Santorum who've made their bones opposing marriage for same-sex couples urged Iowans to vote no on retaining three Supreme Court judges.

In Iowa, judges are appointed, but come up for a retention vote after their first year of service and again at regular intervals. Three state Supreme Court justices are up for retention vote this election day -- and, like every single one of their peers on that bench, they voted in 2009 that the state had no compelling reason to block same-sex couples from marrying.

So Iowa became a state where lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people could marry each other. Almost 90 couples from St. Louis have bussed to Iowa City on frequent bus trips chartered by Ed Reggi and Scott Emanuel's Show Me No Hate, the grassroots marriage equality group.

"It's a service we provide in this office," said Kim Painter, county recorder in Johnson County, as last week's couples picked up the paperwork for their weddings that afternoon. "We're always happy to provide it -- any time anyone gets married it's a joy."

And while it's disappointing that the marriages aren't recognized back home in Missouri, it was an important step for the six men and 18 women that day.

"The more LGBT people take this step, the more it affirms that it's for everyone's benefit," said Gretchen Vander Meulen, who was marrying Elsbeth Brugger, her partner of 23 years.

That, of course, doesn't square with the folks on the Judge Bus. The bus is a project of the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage, a pair of Washington, D.C. based anti-gay lobbying groups.

"The Iowa Supreme Court ruled as irrelevant millennia of tradition and the views of a large majority of Iowans that marriage is and always should be between one man and one woman. This is not the court's role," said Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council Action president, in a statement.

Kim Painter, the Johnson County recorder, calls the effort by the lobbyists "an unconstitutional effort to unseat three judges. We've got a lot of great people out there talking about how horrible it would be to turn the judicial system into electoral politics."

We'll be eagerly watching how thing shake out on election day next week, and if the St. Louis marriage buses will have to find another destination.

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