PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

In legalizing gay marriage, Iowa confounds stereotypes about Midwest

Rex W. Huppke
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Once again, a humble Midwestern state is being laughed at by cosmopolitan smarty-pants on the East and West coasts. The victim this time, of course, is Iowa, which recently had the gall to legalize gay marriage and attempt to mess up decades of perfectly good Midwestern stereotyping.

People on the coasts gasped: "Iowa? Isn't that where they grow the corn our personal chefs turn into polenta?" Jon Stewart piled on, showing a picture of a lone farm tractor pulling a trailer and claiming it was a shot of Iowa's most recent gay pride parade. Among gay marriage advocates, the mantra soon became, "If they can do it in Iowa, they can do it anywhere."

You see what's happening here? The Midwest is again being painted with a broad, sable-hair brush. Some see the Iowa Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling as staggering not because of what it accomplished but because of where it went down.

Linda Kerber, a history professor at the University of Iowa, has seen it countless times before. A former New Yorker herself who also lived for a while in California, she knows that many left and right coasters know nothing about Iowa or its long progressive legal history.

"You don't need a passport to cross the Hudson River, but many think you do," Kerber said. "These New Yorkers who say, 'Iowa? What?' - they're being very provincial. They need a passport to go to France, and they go to France a lot more than they go to Iowa."

Consider these facts Kerber shared about the Hawkeye State:

In 1847, the University of Iowa became the first public university in the country to give women unfettered access to higher education.

The state did away with racial barriers to marriage in 1851, more than 100 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would ban miscegenation statutes nationwide.

In 1868, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools are a denial of equal protection of the laws. Brown v. Board of Education, which did away with school segregation nationally, didn't come down until 1954.

And in 1873, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination in public accommodations. It would be almost 100 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would reach the same decision.

Then of course there was that whole "voting for a black man in the Democratic primary" thing not too long ago.

In a joint statement released the day the Iowa court issued its gay marriage ruling, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy said: "When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency."

Hum a few bars of that, snarky Californians. (And by the way, how's your gay-marriage legalization process going out there?)

Camilla Taylor, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal in Chicago and lead counsel on the Iowa case, recalled a sign she saw in Iowa at a celebration rally after the ruling. It read, referencing the Midwest's oft-ignored status, "Flyover Equality."

"We knew we could count on Iowa's leadership on civil rights issues," Taylor said.

Richard Longworth, in his book "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism," describes the Midwest like this:

"The stereotype of the narrow, bigoted, unworldly bumpkin, the image of the Midwesterner passed down by (Sinclair) Lewis and other authors, clashes with reality. ... Midwesterners are tolerant, narrow-minded, cultural, crass, sophisticated and naive in pretty much the same measure as other Americans."

And yet he believes the stereotype of the Midwest as a large, conservative monolith remains well intact.

"I think it's as strong as it's ever been," said Longworth, who lives in Chicago but grew up in Iowa. "Look at the shock and amazement when the Iowa Supreme Court took this step. All you can say is, 'Go figure.' "

And isn't that a typical Midwestern thing to say.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.