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After the Wedding: Five Years After Varnum

 It’s been 5 years since the Iowa Supreme Court decision of Varnum versus Brien that paved the way for same sex marriage in the state and Iowa’s public opinion is changing.

In 1996, Rob Gilmer and his husband Rene Orduna opened the restaurant Dixie Quick's in Omaha. They were running out of space in their Nebraska restaurant and after the Iowa Supreme Court decision they decided to move the restaurant to Council Bluffs.

“Just the fact that it happened in some scattered state, then in the Midwest, in Iowa,” Gilmer said, recalling how he felt when he heard about the decision. “Iowa was the leading edge, it was amazing and something I never thought would happen in my lifetime.”

The couple expanded their restaurant to include an art gallery where they got married.

“Like most things in life as soon as you’re comfortable enough to tell people who you are and what you are eventually they realize it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are it depends on what type of a person you are,” said Rene Orduna, who’s also the restaurant’s chef. “That is something that I think it definitely gaining pace with this five year anniversary.”

A recent Iowa poll by Selzer and Company found the plurality of Iowans say it doesn’t matter to them, it’s not their issue.

“More say they’re proud than say they’re disappointed,” said company president J. Ann Selzer.

Almost half of the Iowans polled under the age of 35 are proud. Whereas, more than half of those polled Iowans older than 65 say they’re disappointed. Selzer compares that to a poll from a poll in 2008 when more than half of the respondents say marriage should be between one man and one woman.

“What that tells us is there’s something about the word marriage that was still stuck in terms of well one man one woman,” Selzer said. “One of the things happened post-Varnum is in comfort using that word describing a relationship between same-sex couples.”

“You can’t expect (people) to just simply toss aside the issue of marriage,” said Danny Carroll, the newly elected chairman of the Republican Party. “It’s fundamental to our society.”

Some Iowa GOP strategists have said opposing same-sex marriage in any election only hurts their party. Carroll sees it differently.

“A lot of Republicans are going to maintain their view on that regardless of what I or any other Republican leader might have to say about it,” said Carroll.

The lead plaintiff in the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case, Kate Varnum, said public opinion still needs education even though it’s been five years.

“We still try to teach people about the differences between pre-decision and post decision, pre-Defense of Marriage Act and post-Defense of Marriage Act,” Varnum said. “We have a lot of work to do and we’re still working on changing the hearts and minds of people that we know and of Iowa in general.”

Soon after the decision Varnum married her girlfriend. They adopted a son.

“When we were first dating we would introduce each other as our roommates or as our friends. Now we have no qualms about introducing each other as this is my wife,” Varnum said. “Our son is two and a half and he introduces us as mama and mommy and he will point out to others who we are in his life. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for us.”

Varnum said she and her wife Trish lead a boring life in Cedar Rapids just like any straight couple. 

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.