Iowa Code amended in gay rights win

Libby Vickers

The rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual Iowans are now protected under an amendment to the Iowa Civil Rights Code.

The Iowa Civil Rights Code guarantees citizens equal opportunities in areas such as employment, education and housing regardless of categories including race, gender and religion. The amendment, which went into effect on July 1, added sexual orientation and gender identity to those categories.

“It has been legal in most of the state to say, ‘We don’t want to hire gays,'” said State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, associate professor of economics at Iowa State. “But you can’t do that now, not any more than you can use race or sex as a factor in who to employ or promote or fire.”

In addition to protecting the rights of Iowans, lawmakers also hope this amendment will make Iowa more welcoming.

“There is ongoing concern about keeping people here in Iowa, especially young people.” Quirmbach said. “If people are gay themselves or simply sympathetic to that issue, we want to make Iowa a more attractive place for them to live.”

Quirmbach considers the law a positive step in making Iowa a more progressive state. However, several legislators voted against it.

“There are people who have personal insecurities regarding matters of sexual orientation and I think that a lot of the objections ultimately came from them still being uncomfortable about that,” Quirmbach said. “Some people clothe that in the rhetoric of religion.”

Although religion may have been used as an objection to this law, a local Catholic priest said everyone’s civil liberties should be protected by the government.

“The Catholic Church has long been on record saying that people should not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation,” said Father Everett Hemann, priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 2210 Lincoln Way.

The federal government does not prohibit discrimination on these grounds, but 18 other states have passed similar amendments and many cities, including Ames, have such provisions in their own civil rights laws.

“It’s a national trend,” said Nathan Bell, vice president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ally Alliance at Iowa State and sophomore in communication studies. “It’s only a matter of time before the other states wise up to the fact that this needs to happen, and pass legislation to protect all individuals.”

The LGBTAA at Iowa State sees this as an important step for Iowa in regard to gay rights.

“The alliance has been very active in lobbying for this cause, especially in the past academic year,” Bell said. “It’s long overdue and needed to happen, but we’ve reached this hurdle and now we’re on to the next one.”