SCOTT SIMON, host:
It's a little early for gay couples to start booking honeymoon suites in Iowa City, but this week's unanimous ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that overturned a 1998 state law barring same-sex marriage marks some kind of turning point.
The matter isn't decided. Governor Chet Culver says there's strong opinions he respects on both sides. He's reviewing the decision. There's a campaign to let Iowans vote on an amendment to their constitution that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Before that can happen, gays could begin getting married in Iowa in just three weeks.
Gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, the Iowa justices wrote. They are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded.
Whatever the final result may be, it seems to me that the decision reminds us that gay life in America isn't confined to just certain zip codes of lower Manhattan, West Hollywood, Miami's South Beach and Chicago's Lakeview. It's as American as Iowa.
I marched in a few gay rights parades when I was a student, when it was considered almost daring for straights to join in such an assembly. Now many big city mayors march in gay rights parades. Indeed, there are mayors who are openly gay.
For me, one of the most telling moments in the last election campaign was in the vice presidential debates when the moderator asked about gay rights. If you examine their words without partisan shading, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin had exactly the same position. Neither was in favor of same-sex marriage but both opposed discrimination against gays, Governor Palin talking about a friend and adding, She's not my gay friend, she's one of my best friends.
Over the space of just one generation, preventing discrimination against gays has become not only the law but popular mainstream American opinion. Of course there are still bigots and inequities but there are also millions of gays today living all over America, not only without fear of being hounded, persecuted and oppressed, but working, teaching, serving in legislatures, heading major corporations. Gays are living next door and raising families.
A generation ago when the chant was two, four, six, eight, gay is just as good as straight, I can't say I was opposed to gay marriage; the idea just didn't occur to me. But I also used a typewriter then and I thought the Web was something in the corner of a first baseman's glove.
A generation later, gays who've grown up free from many of the old fears may have a new and growing idea of what real equality means.
(Soundbite of song, "Sioux City Sue")
Mr. GENE AUTRY (Late Singer): (Singing) Sioux City Sue, Sioux City Sue, your hair is red, your eyes are blue, I swap my horse and dog for you. Sioux City Sue, Sioux City Sue, there ain't no gal as true as my sweet Sioux City Sue…
SIMON: Gene Autry. This is NPR News.