Three Profiles In Courage

Here is a riddle for you. What do JFK’s bad back, a 19th century ship’s lantern, and same-sex marriages in Iowa have in common? If you answered three heroes of the Marriage Equality Movement, you’d be right. And today they are On Our Radar.

When he was in the Senate, John Kennedy took a leave of absence to have surgery on his spine. During his year-long convalescence, Kennedy (some say with the help of his speech writer Ted Sorenson) found the time to write the American masterpiece, Profiles In Courage.  The book tells the stories of eight US Senators who had the moral courage to stand up for what they believed was right, even though it was against their own personal or political interests. It became a best seller and won a Pulitzer Prize, but if Kennedy had not been plagued by a bad back, it might never have been written.

 Without belittling the courage with which men have died, we should not forget those acts of courage with which men have lived.” Wrote Kennedy in his book. Taking up that challenge, in 1989 the Kennedy family created the Profiles in Courage Award. Every year in May, the month of Kennedy’s birth, the award is given to public servants who have shown that same rare virtue of putting country above self.

I bet you have already guessed that the award is shaped like a ship’s lantern. I have always liked the lantern imagery, a symbol of truth and enlightenment. Picture Diogenese,  holding his lantern aloft, searching for one honest man.

That brings us to the same-sex married couples in Iowa.

In 2005, in a case known as Barnum V Brien, six couples sued the Polk County Iowa Recorder of Deeds for refusing to grant them marriage licenses. Iowa had enacted a “Defense of Marriage” Act in 1998. It had very clear language stating a marriage must be between one man and one woman. But Barnum prevailed.

The case was eventually appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, where in a unanimous ruling, the justices struck the “one man and one woman” language from the state code as unconstitutional. “Anyone with legal and intellectual integrity would have voted the same way.” Remarked one of the Justices. And that is how, in 2009, marriage equality came to Iowa.

The usual marriage equality foes immediately went to war. 

In Iowa, Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the Governor and retained or voted out after each four-year term by the electorate at large. NOM immediately undertook a campaign against retaining all seven justices, beginning with Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker and Justice Michael Streit, who were the first up for retention in 2010. All three lost their judgeships.

This week, The Kennedy Library Foundation announced a 2012 Profiles in Courage Award will be presented to each of the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who voted their conscience but lost their positions. They will be awarded the honor May 7th, at the John F Kennedy Library in Boston Massachusetts.

I hope you will join us at The New Civil Rights Movement in congratulating Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Striet for personifying those qualities of selfless devotion to country that the Profiles in Courage Award honors. Their actions have furthered the cause of equality, and made this a better country. This week, Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Striet, Profiles in Courage one and all, are very deservedly, On Our Radar.

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