In February, a poll by the newspaper found that 56 percent of Iowans were opposed to legislative efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. That is consistent with other swing states: Voters back gay marriage by 21 points in Florida, 15 points in Ohio and nine in Virginia, new Washington Post polls found.
In Iowa, conservative activists concede that they face an uphill fight in recapturing the energy of 2010, when the court case at the heart of the dispute, Varnum v. Brien, was only a year old.
“Once you win a state championship, it’s a challenge to get them back into the locker room and say let’s do this again,” said Bob Vander Plaats, chairman of Iowa for Freedom, an offshoot of the Christian conservative organization the Family Leader.
Chuck Hurley, president of the allied Iowa Family Policy Center, attributes the shift to what he calls “the Will and Grace engine of Hollywood” that has portrayed gay relationships as acceptable and desirable.
The most enigmatic figure is the jurist at the center: Wiggins, 60, a blue-collar Chicagoan who drove a delivery route for his father’s egg business and was the first in the family to attend college. Appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) in 2003, Wiggins hasn’t always won friends with his blunt, sometimes abrasive presence, local lawyers say.
“He doesn’t go out of his way to please people,” said Des Moines lawyer Guy Cook, who is leading the local bar campaign on Wiggins’s behalf. “He’s not some academic who went to a prestigious Ivy League school. He earned his stripes.”
Meanwhile, Kate Varnum, the lead plaintiff in the court case, said she is encouraged by what she sees. She and her wife, Trish Varnum, are among the 4,500 same-sex couples who have married in Iowa since 2009.
“People thought we would destroy marriage and that awful things would happen to children,” said Varnum, 38, who lives in Cedar Rapids with her wife and their adopted 11-month-old son, Alex. “We’ve come a long way since 2010.”